The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has issued a much-awaited judgment in a case led by Puma and Clarks, in which regulations imposing anti-dumping duties on imports of certain footwear from China and Vietnam from April 2006 until March 2011 were declared invalid.
The ruling was issued upon a request from the Finance Court in Munich, where Puma filed a claim in 2012 to obtain reimbursement of anti-dumping duties, and from the tax chamber in the U.K., where Clarks filed its case. The ECJ judgment will lead to the resumption of these cases, although it should take several months for any verdict to be issued.
They may lead to significant reimbursements, since the duties amounted to 16.5 percent on certain footwear from China and 10 percent from Vietnam. European customs are said to have collected about €1.2 billion in anti-dumping duties over the five-year period, but these duties applied to footwear with leather uppers and excluded special technology athletic footwear.
In any case, the ECJ judgment should not be regarded as an opportunity for any European company that paid anti-dumping duties on Chinese and Vietnamese footwear imports to claim reimbursement. If granted, reimbursement would only apply for the three years prior to the filing of the claims (making any new claims irrelevant) and the judgment specifically says the regulations imposing the duties were invalid insofar as the European Commission did not examine the Market Economy Treatment (MET) and Individual Treatment (IT) claims duly filed by certain cooperating footwear exporters.
The ECJ found that the Commission was under a legal obligation to examine these claims and a failure to do so led the court to conclude that the above regulations were invalid for imports from those suppliers. It remains unclear if this judgment could amount to an invalidation of the regulations as a whole.
The Commission originally examined only claims filed by the sampled Chinese and Vietnamese suppliers at the time of the initial investigation, due to the abundance of claims filed. But in the meantime, it appears that the Commission has started to retroactively examine the MET claims of Chinese suppliers involved in the Puma and Clarks case. It may thus argue that some of the reasons behind the latest ECJ judgement no longer apply – although such a procedure would undoubtedly be disputed. A spokesman for the Commission's DG Trade said it had yet to analyze the ruling in more detail.
Puma is part of a group of 25 companies that filed claims for the reimbursement of anti-dumping duties on the same legal grounds, including sports as well as other footwear companies. This group includes Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Skechers, Columbia and major shoe companies such as Timberland, Ecco and Geox, which filed claims to their relevant customs authorities.
When the court in Munich referred the case to the ECJ, customs authorities in several EU countries agreed to suspend the other cases until the judgment from the ECJ. The Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry (Fesi) provided support to obtain an alignment in the industry and to help fund the Puma case. Although the Clarks case was filed separately, the ECJ decided to join it with the Puma case prior to hearings in 2014.
The ECJ's judgement was welcomed by Puma as well as Fesi. Alberto Bichi, Fesi's secretary general, called for “the immediate reimbursement of those anti-dumping duties which the EU unlawfully collected.” Several companies involved in the group around the Puma case are members of Fesi. Others may have filed claims for reimbursement separately.