EU members more divided than ever over anti-dumping taxes on Asian leather shoes

BRUSSELS – European Union countries clashed yesterday over a plan to impose anti-dumping duties on Asian leather shoe imports, postponing for another week a decision in the row that has split the bloc. A narrow majority of the 25 member states has so far opposed the duties plan, led by the Nordic states, which traditionally favor free trade and embrace economic globalization. They are pitted against an increasingly angry group led by shoe-producing Italy, which says imports of underpriced shoes and other goods unfairly threaten entire sectors of their economies and tens of thousands of jobs. With time running out for the dumping plan, tempers are flaring, trade diplomats said. Italy, incensed that other EU countries will not back its campaign, proposed that existing European anti-dumping duties that help protect British and Irish salmon farmers against non-EU Norway should be suspended, Italian diplomats said. Poland, Spain and Lithuania were backing Italy’s countermove which could be repeated on other dumping duties introduced at the request of members of the rival EU camp, they said. «I think we will now see an anti-dumping war,» said a trade specialist from a free-trading Nordic country. The battle over shoe duties has raged since February, when the European Commission said it had evidence of state intervention in China and Vietnam. Both Asian countries have denied dumping. Deadline The proposed duties of 16.5 percent for leather shoes from China and 10 percent for Vietnam must be agreed upon by next Friday, when provisional duties expire. An EU diplomat said France suggested yesterday that the duties should last for two years – down from the standard five-year period – and then be reviewed. Cyprus, a crucial swing voter which has previously opposed duties, said the idea could be a starting point for a compromise, the diplomat said. A spokesman for the Finnish EU presidency said ambassadors had decided to put off the issue until they meet again next week. A final decision would be taken by ministers on Thursday, a day before the deadline. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, a convinced free-marketeer, has sought to tread a fine line between the two camps, courting suspicion on both sides. After the shoe row, trade experts say the next battle is already looming over Chinese furniture imports. Furniture makers in Italy, Germany and other EU countries are collecting data to back up a possible request for an anti-dumping investigation to be made in coming weeks. Mandelson is due to publish a policy paper next week on how Europe should face up to the challenges of globalization, including a review of its anti-dumping rules. That has raised concerns in several EU capitals which fear the review could make it harder for them to use the duties.