A boom in counterfeit clothing accessories being smuggled into the European Union (EU) has overshadowed a fall in the trade in fake sportswear, according to the latest figures from the European Commission.

It said that EU customs officials seized 30m items of clothing and accessory fakes last year, up 175%. The overwhelming majority of these counterfeits were accessories, such as belts, caps, scarves, sunglasses and bags, with 24.8m being seized, up 570% on last year.

Confiscated fake sportswear numbers actually fell 64% to 1m items though, while standard ready-to-wear clothing remained at around 4m.

The overwhelming majority of counterfeits were made in China, especially sportswear, (94%) and accessories (90%), while there was a more even spread for standard ready-to-wear items.

However, even here China accounted for 50% of seized fakes, with 16% coming from India, 8% from Turkey, 4% from Vietnam, 3% from Pakistan, 2% from Bulgaria, 2% from Hong Kong and 1% from Thailand.

Across all sectors, the commission said EU customs officials seized more than 250m fake items in 2006, compared with 75m 2005 and 100m in 2004.

Brussels added that counterfeiters were varying their tactics, saying: "Changes in the routes used by criminals to trade in fake goods, the use of the internet and the transport of small quantities by air or postal traffic make customs job even more challenging."

EU customs and taxation commissioner László Kovács said: "Counterfeiting continues to constitute a dangerous threat for our health, safety and the economy".

By Keith Nuthall.