EU members deeply divided over anti-dumping duties on Asian shores

BRUSSELS – European governments battling over whether to impose anti-dumping duties on Asian leather shoe imports lobbied other capitals furiously for support yesterday as a decisive vote approached. Thirteen European Union countries have so far opposed the duties plan, led by Nordic states which champion free trade. Against them are the EU’s 12 other members, coordinated by shoe-producing Italy. They say illegal, cheap imports threaten entire sectors of their economies. The duties of 16.5 percent for shoes from China and 10 percent for Vietnam must be agreed by October 6. The fight has raged since the European Commission said in February it had evidence of state intervention in China and Vietnam, both of which have denied dumping. It is due to resume today when EU ambassadors meet. But given the deadlock, voting may be delayed until a meeting of ministers a day before the deadline for the duties. «So far, it looks like no one has shifted their support. Our coalition still stands,» said a trade diplomat from a Scandinavian country. An envoy from the opposing camp said it was still too soon to say how the battle would end. «We have done everything we can politically, we have taken our campaign to the media and we have been moving behind the scenes,» he said. Trade experts say the EU shoe fight could set a precedent for future disputes such as a possible anti-dumping investigation by the EU into Asian furniture imports. Italy has focused recently on Latvia and Cyprus as two countries that might leave the «No» camp. But Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks said his country would not change sides. «In spite of our deep understanding of our colleagues who are in support of protective measures, we cannot support this, even for shoes. We are for free movement of trade and labour,» he told Reuters in Riga. Cypriot officials in Brussels said they could not comment. Diplomats have said normally free-trading Britain and Italy recently discussed the possibility of London backing the duties in return for Rome’s support when Britain tries to keep an opt-out from the EU’s maximum 48-hour working week rule. But those talks appear to have floundered. Trade experts said the fight might end up in court. Some EU officials say that even if the vote fails to take place before October 6, the duties may still come in as no majority vote against it at ministerial level will have taken place.