The European Union has today (22 December) decided to extend controversial anti-dumping duties imposed on leather shoes from China and Vietnam, in a move that will come as a blow not only to China but to importers and retailers as well.

However, the 15-month extension of the import duties is far shorter than the usual five years after vigorous campaigning by northern European nations opposed to the re-imposition of levies.

The move means the taxes - of 16.5% on Chinese and 10% on Vietnamese leather footwear imports respectively - will take effect from January 2010 and lapse at the end of March 2011.

The anti-dumping levies originally began in 2006 and were extended pending a review last year.

When they were first imposed in 2006, they were opposed by many northern European member states and major retailers who feared increases in the retail price of imported shoes.

They also claimed the measures are anti-competitive and counter-productive during the economic downturn.

However, the Commission says prices have remained stable despite the duties - which it blames on China and Vietnam continuing to over-produce shoes and dump below-cost exports on the EU market.

As a result, it argues "the removal of measures at this stage would lead to increased dumping and injury - and potentially halt the adjustment process of an industry which employs over 260,000 workers in the EU."

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), meanwhile, calculates the tariffs typically add GBP1.60 to the dockside cost of a pair of imported shoes.

"That means UK customers are paying GBP330m a year more than they should have to for these shoes."

While the EU's decision will be a relief to shoe makers in Italy, Portugal and Spain, the Foreign Trade Association (FTA) maintains EU producers are not hurt by the imports, but that importers, retailers and consumers are hurt by the anti-dumping duties.

China's shoe manufacturers are also bracing for a further hit to exports from the tariff extension, though many have already shifted business away from Europe or are turning towards the domestic market in an attempt to offset the likely slowdown in business.

"Weak foreign demand and trade protectionism together is a double whammy. It's hard to say which is more serious," Chen Ronghui, president of Quanzhou shoe and leather association, told just-style last month.

The FTA lobby group also believes the Commission had already decided that the duties should continue, irrespective of the wishes of EU Member States, after a panel of anti-dumping experts voted against the idea last month.

The European Commission today confirmed its final decision "was taken by simple majority, without discussion."