The European Commission said it will introduce import duties on Chinese and Vietnamese footwear starting from next week after EU trade officials voted in the proposal.

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson believes there is evidence that China and Vietnam are shipping unfairly-priced footwear to Europe, posing a threat to shoemakers there.

The EC will launch the duties on 22 March. They will gradually be increased over a six-month basis from 4% to 19.4% for Chinese footwear and 16.8% for Vietnamese shoes. The EC will decide if the duties will become definitive - in which case they could be applied for up to five years - in October.

High-tech sports shoes, which are no longer produced in Europe, will not be coveed by duties, nor will children's shoes.

China believes the duties are unnecessary and against free-trade ethics, while many European retailers are strongly opposed to the duties.

Horst Widmann, president of the Federation of the European Sporting goods Industry, said: "The alleged 'benefits' to a number of uncompetitive Italian shoe manufacturers are miniscule compared to the massive damage duties would cause.

"No single job will come back to Europe as a result of the measures but damage will be done to high-value sectors of the European footwear industry like design, advertising, marketing, sales and logistics." 

Despite being pleased high-tech shoes will be excluded, FESI questions the "compelling evidence" of dumping that the EC claims to have found, and believes even if the state subsidies reportedly found in China and Vietnam exist, there would still be no legal basis for anti-dumping measures.

"The EU anti-dumping regulation obliges us to charge higher prices to consumers," said Karl Sedlmeyer, FESI's vice-president.

FESI believes, as does much of the European shoe sector, that pro-duty countries such as Italy need to accept that manufacturing is moving to China and Vietnam and catch up with countries that already outsource to Asia.

"The blanket refusal of Market Economy Status for Chinese and Vietnamese producers denies the reality of this market, in which both countries' manufacturers have operated in highly competitive markets for over a decade."

The EC should "revise the anti-dumping decision over next few months to minimise pain for European consumers and industry", FESI said.