Anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese shoe imports into the European Union could end as early as October, as governments have rejected a second proposal for definitive measures.
Peter Mandelson, European trade commissioner, must go back to the drawing board as time runs out to decide on long-term action against Chinese and Vietnamese leather footwear.
Interim import tariffs were imposed after a flood of cheap imports provoked complaints from domestic manufacturers and a study found the manufacturers benefited from cheap loans and tax breaks. These expire on October 6. Some 14 of 25 member states opposed Mr Mandelson’s longer-term plan for five-year measures, senior diplomats said, in a victory for a Swedish-led coalition of supporters of free trade.
The Commission’s first proposal favoured allowing 80 per cent of shoes in tariff-free. That was rejected by producer states as too lenient. Its latest idea, for a 10 per cent tariff on imports from Vietnam and 16.5 per cent on China, has been blocked by northern states.
The issue has pitted shoemaking states such as Italy, Poland and Portugal against those dominated by retailers, such as the UK. Germany, a swing voter in such debates, has joined the Swedes.
“Anti-dumping measures have become more of an instrument to protect Europe from competition, and today´s policy has to adjust to a modern, globalised, European economy,” Thomas Ostros, Swedish trade minister, told the Financial Times.
“Our job now is to see if there’s a way out of this,” said Mr Mandelson’s spokesman.
“There are clearly no guarantees that this is achievable.”
“After last year’s textile crisis, retailers and industry are much more aware and ready to act,” said Annachiara Torciano, an adviser to Europe’s sports shoe makers, which produce in Asia.
Agreement by the end of the month is needed to be able to get all 25 commissioners to approve the proposal in early September if it is to take effect by October 6.
China’s threat to take action at the World Trade Organisation and heavy lobbying in national capitals may have helped its cause.