Inches stay for 10 more years

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BRITAIN IS keeping feet and inches for another 10 years - because America has failed to adopt EU standards.

Imperial units were due to disappear at the end of this year when metrication replaced what Brussels calls the "inch-pound" system across the European Union.

But industries facing multi-billion pound costs to meet new metric-only labelling laws have won a breathing space until 2009.

Moves to harmonise units of measure began 30 years, before Britain joined the EU. Since then centimetres, metres and kilograms have steadily been taking over, with famous exceptions such as the mile and the pint of beer.

Businesses facing a labelling nightmare were given a reprieve in 1989 and told that imperial units would finally be outlawed from 1999.

But firms dealing in goods from consumer electronics to perfumery have battled on, complaining that they would have to set up two production lines, with goods destined for the EU market labelled with metric measurements and those going for export to the US continuing to use imperial measures.

Without America ready to make the conversion, the European Commission has agreed to recommend another delay.

"US legislation requires that declarations of quantities of consumer products be given both metric and inch-pound units," according to a new Commission report.

"European exporters are obliged to place dual indications on products destined for the US market."

Euro MPs are now being asked to endorse the reprieve to allow continued dual labelling, so "maintaining compatibility with the present US legislation".

The Commission recommendation states: "With the objective of facilitating international trade the proposal creates a further transition period of 10 years, during which time measures must be taken both by the EU and US to eliminate remaining obstacles especially regarding labelling."

The European Commissioner Martin Bengemann has been frustrated by the failure of the US administration to follow up its commitment to moves towards the metric system, which was originally promised back in the 19th century.