Footwear giants condemn EU plans for China import tariffs

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The Independent Online

The European Branded Footwear Coalition (EBFC), whose members employ 16,700 people in Europe, said the European Commission risked repeating the mistake of last summer's "bra wars" over textile imports. "EBFC members wonder why the Commission seems determined to give its citizens high-priced shoes in time for Christmas," it said.

Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, willtell the 25 member states tomorrow he plans to slap a 4 per cent tariff on imports from 7 April rising to almost 20 per cent by October.

The EBFC said a flat-rate tax would hit high-price shoes, much of whose value was generated in Europe, and urged Mr Mandelson to use a minimum import price that would target low-priced shoes. "We are concerned that setting the duty at a rate that cannot be absorbed by manufacturers and retailers will ultimately be borne by European consumers," it said.

Clarks, the UK shoe giant, said: "Twenty per cent would be difficult to swallow." A spokesman added: "We will have to work very hard with suppliers and supply chains and profitability. To what extent consumer prices will have to rise and retail jobs will be lost - it is too early to comment but there will have to be some pain shared."

The Commission does not need approval for the provisional measure, although it is looking for a consensus among member states. The UK's Department of Trade and Industry, which abstained in the vote over imposing quotas on textiles in 2005, said it was "in close contract" with interested bodies in the UK.

Commission sources have indicated its investigation has uncovered "compelling evidence" of illegal state aid through tax breaks and holidays, non-commercial land rates and cheap finance. Chinaexpressed hope that talks would stave off anti-dumping duties.