Chinese imports threatening jobs, shoemakers warn Brussels

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European footwear manufacturers warned yesterday up to 600,000 jobs were at risk unless Brussels acted to stem a flood of cheap imports from China.

Anci, the trade body for shoemakers in Italy, one of the worst-affected countries, urged the European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson to take "firm, bold and swift" action.

European Union investigators are analysing data to see whether China is guilty of "dumping" shoes on the European market - selling them at a price lower than the cost of the raw materials. Under EU rules, Mr Mandelson has until 7 April to take action, and speculation is mounting in the run-up to a meeting of the anti-dumping committee this month.

Anci said 75,000 footwear jobs were lost last year alone out of a total workforce of 600,000 at manufacturers and suppliers. "Thousands of footwear firms are going out of business in Italy and across Europe, and tens of thousands of workers are losing their jobs," it said. "In extreme circumstances, the reaction must be firm, bold and swift."

It said that after a quota system called the multi-fibre arrangement elapsed in January, footwear imports from China rose fourfold while prices fell 25 per cent.

A spokesman for the European Commission said no decision was imminent, adding that next month's committee meeting was "purely technical".

Mr Mandelson is in London today for a meeting with his Indian counterpart, Kamal Nath.