Before the creation of the single market at the beginning of this year trade with state-trading nations of the former Communist bloc and countries such as China and North Korea was regulated bilaterally.
But the single market has broken down all EC barriers to trade and a new system has not yet been agreed to govern trade relations with these countries.
The commission wants to take the opportunity to revise existing rules and strengthen its own hand in deciding whether to impose anti-dumping duties on certain imports into the Community.
In the absence of any new system, the UK and the Netherlands 'rolled over' the existing quotas. Germany abandoned them altogether. This, the commission complained yesterday, amounted to member states 'taking the law into their own hands'.
The commission has written to the three governments giving them two weeks to indicate that they will comply with EC law or face possible action in the European Court of Justice.
A commission spokesman said a confusing situation had arisen for importers who were unsure whether to apply EC or national rules. There must be a common commercial policy.
A spokesman for the British government said the quotas related principally to china products, shoes and textiles and the UK had no option but to roll over the existing quota regime.
Without it, import-export companies, many of them small businesses hard pressed by the recession, would be left high and dry. Some might even face closure.
'We will defend our position vigorously,' the spokesman added.Reuse content