The advisory anti-dumping committee of the European Commission is set to meet on Feb. 14 to discuss again the complaint filed last July about dumping of leather shoes from China and Vietnam in the European Union, but observers in Brussels indicate that they would be surprised if any action would be taken there on this complaint. The next likely date now is March 9, and the current bet is that the committee will propose provisional duties in a range from 20 to 30 percent, probably excluding technical sports shoes (the so-called STAF exemption).

There is also a new theory being thrashed out in Brussels, according to which the European Commission could end up adopting a new mixed system of anti-dumping duties and quotas for leather shoes. According to this theory, the Commission would reinstate a quota system for leather shoes, making sure that it will work better than the one recently implemented for certain types of Chinese garments, and it would add anti-dumping duties for any quantities imported beyond the quotas

There will likely be more action in Brussels on Feb. 14 on the other complaint that concerns safety footwear with a protective toe cap originating in China or in India. The committee will have to decide there whether the producers of these types of shoes in these countries can qualify for market economy status in calculating the level of dumping.

The safety shoe issue is explosive because the complaint filed in Brussels refers to shoes protected by any type of toe cap, irrespective of the material. Thus it theoretically encompasses a large variety of outdoor and street shoes made for hiking or for leisure that feature a toe cap in rubber or leather, and not just the classical safety boots with a steel toe. FAIR, the recently established European footwear importers’ association, has strongly criticized the complaint because its scope goes well beyond the items covered by European norms on safety shoes, but the European Commission has accepted to reveiew the case. On the other hand, it will probably have a hard time proving injury to the EU industry, which is relatively small in this sector. Most European safety boots produced in Romania and Morocco.

Italian shoe manufacturers have openly criticized the continued delays in Brussels’ action on shoe imports, financing a big advertisement in London’s Financial Times to raise public awareness about the industry’s plight after a rather negative meeting with the European trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, in Milan last Jan. 19. They are particularly critical of the long-standing stalemate in Brussels over their request for mandatory labels of origin for all kinds of shoes imported into the EU.

ANCI, the Italian shoe industry association, has been assuring its members that these labels will be imposed soon in the EU, as is already the case in the USA, Japan or China, but according to the latest indications from Brussels, a blocking minority of the 25 member states is preventing final passage of this measure. As previously reported, a committee of the European Commission had already approved it last fall, with the proviso that it would be adopted only 12 months later and that it would exclude three major shoe manufacturing countries – Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. According to well-informed sources, the stalemate may be broken if the implementation date is delayed further and if Morocco and Tunisia are exempted as well. Many French companies and some Italian and Belgian firms have shoe factories in these two other Mediterranean countries.

As we have reported in the previous issue of Shoe Intelligence, European companies are studying or enacting a variety of sourcing, product development and pricing schemes to counter the effect of the likely anti-dumping duties. Companies that are sourcing in many different countries around the globe have a definite advantage. Some, like Wortmann, began this process when the complaints were filed last summer, but some late-comers are scrambling for new sources, facing the problem that they will have to retrain workers in India or some other country. Others, like Noël of France, have made bigger investments in other countries such as Tunisia.