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'Harmful' Footwear Casts Shadow on Sino-EU Trade
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It has been reported that the European Commission on Thursday refused to give 13 Chinese footwear manufacturers market economy status (MES).


From January 10, Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng has been holding urgent negotiations with European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in Brussels, but no positive agreement has been reached.


Without MES, Chinese footwear manufacturers are vulnerable to anti-dumping charges in the European Union market and high tariffs.


Meanwhile, Chinese exporters are also facing more possible technical barriers.

An official surnamed Wang from the China Chamber of Commerce's Division for the Import and Export of Light Industrial Products and Arts-Crafts (CCCLA) said they had expected the result since the EU governments were under great pressure from Italy and Spain, which want to reduce imports from Asia.

"But it is still shocking that not a single one of the Chinese companies is given the market economy treatment," Wang said. "The EU absolutely ignored the fact that the industry in China is operating free of government control or support."

On December 18, 2005, the Italian Health Ministry announced that Italian customs conducted a spot check on imported footwear and found harmful chemicals in some China-made shoes. Stocks were impounded at Italian ports and authorities are investigating.


The quantity and brand of detained Chinese footwear are still unknown. On January 6, CCCLA published some investigation results of Italian government on its website.


Soana Leonardo, general manager of the National Association of Italian Footwear Manufacturers (ANCI), was quoted as saying that the four EU decrees Italian authorities are relying on are 94/27/CE, 02/61/CE, 76/797/CE, 76/769/CE, and the four harmful chemicals found are nickel, azo dyes, cadmium and pentachlorophenol.


According to Leonardo, the nickel content found in some shoes was four times higher than the EU standard.


ANCI has approximately 1,000 member companies, representing about 70 percent of the overall Italian footwear production. The association is a firm propeller of an EU block on Chinese imports.


According to Leonardo, the Italian Health Ministry is prepared to conduct official spot checks on all imported footwear later this month.


Chinese footwear manufacturers have expressed their discontent and urged for early settlement of the matter.


“Italian authorities never required China-made shoes to meet such standards before. Their sudden decision to impound shoes at the ports obviously violates trade rules,” Fan Shunjie, manager of the International Trade Department of Zhejiang Saina Group Co., Ltd, told China Business News.


“According to international practice, they should first publicize standards, and detain shoes only when these goods don’t comply with standards,” Fan added.


Wang Guoqing from Wenzhou Taima Shoes Co., Ltd. noted that the majority of EU member nations didn’t apply the standards contained in these decrees and many EU importers didn’t set such requirements.


Chinese quality inspection departments have investigated into the impoundment and found excessive nickel in some products. Some products of Zhejiang-based shoemaker Kangnai Group also failed to reach the required nickel standards, but the company said that its leather materials were imported from Italy.


“If Italian authority blocks Chinese shoes in the name of excessive nickel, they should first guarantee the quality of their leather materials instead of creating a trade barrier so suddenly. As for the standard in question, both sides need to further negotiate this,” Kangnai Group person said, who didn’t give his name.


According to official statistics, about 91 million pairs of shoes were exported to Italy from January to October last year.


Events in Review:


-- June 30, 2005

The European Commission initiates anti-dumping investigations into over US$50 million worth of workplace shoes and over US$700 million worth of leather shoes imported from China. The case involves over 1,200 Chinese footwear manufacturers and more than 1 million jobs.


-- September 16, 2004

A Chinese-owned shoe warehouse is set ablaze in Elche, Spain, causing damage worth over 1 million euro. Demonstrations against Chinese shoemakers are also staged in the region.


( by Tang Fuchun, January 14, 2006)

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