The EU has come under fierce attack for its confirmation yesterday that it would slap preliminary anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese and Vietnamese leather shoe exports after finding evidence of unfair trading.

Chinese shoemakers have already vowed they will appeal the decision, and said they have set up a CNY3m (US$374m) fund to challenge the ruling.

China's Ministry of Commerce said China was "unhappy" about the decision to inflict duties the duties of up to 19.4 %. Spokesperson Chong Quan said the country was not engaging in "dumping" (exporting below-price goods) and that its shoe exports had not substantially hurt Europe's industry.

"This approach lacks any basis in fact and law, and violates the principles of fair trade," Chong said.

Vietnam, meanwhile, said it would try its utmost to change the proposal as soon as possible.

'This is a very regrettable and irrational decision,' Vietnamese senior Trade Ministry official Bui Son Dung was reported by Agence France-Presse as saying.

On top of this, US shoe companies are among the latest to rally against the duties. Timberland said that, while it was laying out plans to deal with the duties - including potential price increases on footwear products sold in Europe - its preliminary estimate is that the implementation of such duties is likely reduce its 2006 operating profits in the range of US$10m.

President and chief executive Jeffrey Swartz said: "As a premium footwear provider, we do not believe that our footwear is being imported into Europe at below-market costs, and we believe that the imposition of percentage duties disproportionately impacts premium branded footwear companies, like Timberland, which have not caused injury to Europe-based footwear manufacturers.

"While we are disappointed by the decision of the European Commission, we will continue to work with the Commission to put forth our position with a view to finding a constructive solution."

Wolverine World Wide echoed this, saying: "We believe these protectionist measures are unwarranted, and we will continue to partner with European importers, retailers and consumers to limit the impact of any final trade measures which will be evaluated by the Commission over the coming months."

"… we now anticipate that we will achieve 2006 earnings per share near the low end of the range as these trade measures will have an impact resulting in a potential decrease in our earnings per share approximating $.04 to $.05."

Many European retailers fear  the duties will push up prices to a damaging extent. The British Retail Consortium said duties could add on up to GBP10 (US$17.6) to a pair of high-street shoes.