UK retailers claim victory on shoe duties

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The Independent Online

Lord Mandelson and UK retailers hailed a first-round victory after European Union members voted against extending tariffs on imported leather shoes from Asia beyond January.

The tariffs on adult shoes, of 16.5 per cent on imports from China and 10 per cent on those from Vietnam, were condemned by shoe retailers for driving up prices at a time when consumer spending is weak.

They vowed to keep up the pressure ahead of a final, legally binding vote of the European Commission, to be held before the end of the year, and urged the member states who voted in favour of the tariffs yesterday to now fall into line.

Lord Mandelson, Business Secretary, said: "I welcome the result of today's meeting and urge the commission to reflect the views of the majority of member states and end these duties. These measures are no longer justified. To continue to push for them would run counter to the commitment given at the G20 against protectionism as well as damaging our long-term trade interests with both China and Vietnam."

When he was EU trade commissioner in 2006, Lord Mandelson set the original tariffs for two years, and in 2008 they were extended for a further 15 months. Yesterday, 15 EU member states voted against the proposed extension, two abstained and 10 voted in favour of extending the tariffs from January.

The British Retail Consortium's Brussels director, Alisdair Gray, said: "This is a major victory for customers, retailers and free trade. The EU's argument that these shoes were being sold into Europe at below cost was always bogus cover for protecting inefficient producers at the expense of hard-pressed customers." And he added: "This vote could have dealt another hammer blow to shoppers just as the recession-bound UK economy is starting to show signs of recovery. Instead, it should sound the overdue death-knell for these unjustifiable taxes."

The BRC said the tariffs typically add £1.60 to the cost of a pair of imported shoes, which means that UK consumers pay £330m more a year than they need to for the imported shoes.

A spokeswoman for New Look, which has a large shoe business, said: "We are pleased with the outcome of the EU members' vote. Retailers will once again have flexibility to choose the country best suited to their manufacturing needs without facing a tariff." But a European Commission trade spokesman stressed that yesterday's vote was not legally binding. The commission will make a formal proposal this month that will be put to a final vote of the Member States Council scheduled for 22 December.

Emma Ormond, an international trade consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: "There is plenty of time, therefore, for the commission and those member states most strongly in favour of the measures – Italy and Poland – to put pressure on some of the smaller member states that voted against or abstained."

The commission spokesman said it will "look carefully into all the concerns [member states] voiced and will take them into consideration when preparing a formal proposal."