Czech shoemakers: EU anti-dumping duties on Asian shoes will not contain cheap imports

Just like many other industries, European shoemakers are finding it hard to compete with an influx of cheap products from Asia, and the Czech Republic, with its great shoemaking tradition, has been affected significantly. The EU's anti-dumping experts will be meeting on Thursday to discuss duties recommended earlier this year by the European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. If approved, the tariffs will be imposed for five months, starting in April, and gradually increase to some 19 percent for China and 17 percent for Vietnam. But Czech footwear producers are doubtful these measures will help reverse the trend.

Petr Kubat is the president of the Czech Footwear Association.

"Cheap imports from Asia have affected the Czech footwear industry to the extent that in 1990, the industry employed some 35,000 people and produced 70 million pairs of shoes a year. In 2005, only 3,500 people produced between 5 and 6 million pairs."

The Bata company, which revolutionised the shoe industry in pre-war Czechoslovakia, can now afford to produce shoes in the Czech Republic only thanks to its retail activities. Managing director Michal Jansky says cheap imports are not directly competition for Bata production but he says it is necessary to define what cheap imports actually are.

"I have nothing against legal imports of cheap but quality shoes. The problem is that the declared price of imported leather shoes is often 2 or 2.5 dollars which is less than the manufacturing cost."

Petr Kubat of the Czech Footwear Association says the introduction of anti-dumping duties on leather shoes from China and Vietnam will not contain the cheap imports.

"This measure will affect only honest businessmen, not the ones who import at dumping prices with the tacit agreement of the authorities. Just for your interest, last year some 56 million pairs of shoes were imported only from China, at an average price of 2 dollars, which is not even the factory price."

Michal Jansky of Bata Czech Republic agrees a blanket tariff which makes no distinction between fair importers and those who import at dumping prices is not a solution. He says it will only make leather shoes more expensive and encourage imports of synthetic shoes.

"I think the problem could be solved by introducing minimum import prices. This would be a more systemic solution than a flat anti-dumping duty. It is a political issue now, a result of the pressure of the strong lobby of Italian and Spanish producers rather than a measure based on logic."