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EU slaps tariffs on shoes from China

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The European Union will impose duties on some leather footwear from China and Vietnam next month that may add as much as 10 euro to the price of a pair of shoes - and risks a backlash from China.

The EU imported 5 billion euro, or US$6 billion, worth of shoes from China and Vietnam in the past year. On Wednesday, it agreed to impose tariffs starting at 4 percent, rising to a maximum 19.4 percent after five months, on some imports from the two nations starting April 7.

The duties, which will cover 9 percent of the shoes sold in the EU, exclude children's shoes and some sports footwear.

The decision fuels tensions with China over textile and apparel imports and copyright piracy. China has hinted that it may file a World Trade Organization complaint, charging that the EU's claim of anti-dumping, or selling at prices below production costs, "lacks proof" and is "obvious protectionism."

China's trade surplus tripled to a record US$102 billion last year, sparking increased calls in the United States and Europe for China to let its currency, the yuan, strengthen.

The EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, has dismissed claims by BEUC, the European Consumers' Organization, that the duties would add as much as 10 euro to the cost of shoes, saying the measures target footwear whose wholesale value averages 8.50 euro a pair.

BEUC says European manufacturers cannot meet demand because of high costs and that the duties will encourage inefficiency.

Vivian Han, sales manager at Baishunan, a shoe trading company in Xiamen, in the Eastern Chinese province of Fujian, said her company planned to start shipping shoes through third countries like Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates to avoid the tariffs.

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