In a surprise move, 15 of the 27 European Union countries today (17 September) voted against plans to extend controversial anti-dumping duties on leather footwear imported from China and Vietnam.

Although the majority vote by the member states is not binding, retailers are now urging the European Commission to accept that any plans for import taxes on shoes from the two Asian countries are dead and buried.

However, the final decision on whether or not to launch a formal 'expiry review' of the import taxes ultimately rests with Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who is expected to make up his mind either tomorrow or Friday on how to proceed.

The taxes of 16.5% on imports from China and 10% on imports from Vietnam have been in place since October 2006, and are due to expire on 7 October 2008.

A formal expiry review, however, would give the Commission a further 15 months to study for new evidence of both dumping (goods sold on the export market at prices lower than on the domestic market) and damage to European industry.

Once this has been done, anti-dumping measures could be extended for up to five years.

Uncertainties over whether or not the duties will remain in place have already made it difficult for retailers and importers to plan ahead and source footwear from China and Vietnam.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) today urged the Commission to recognise that carrying on with its review of the duties is now pointless. 

The retailers' organisation argues the anti-dumping tax ultimately pushes up shop prices and wipes out retailers' already modest margins. 

British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said: "Enough countries have now come out against import taxes to kill them off for good. The Commission must acknowledge its review of the duties' future is now pointless and abandon them. 

"Anti-dumping duties are too often about protecting the interests of a few uncompetitive European producers at the expense of consumers and retailers."