Aokang Group, one of China's leading shoe manufacturers, announced on 24 October 2006 it is hiring Chinese top lawyer Pu Lingchen - known for overturning EU anti-dumping charges against China-made lighters in 2003 - to fight the European decision to impose a punitive tariff of 16.5% on imports of Chinese shoes for a two-year period (see EurActiv 9 October 2006).
Other Chinese shoe manufacturers are expected to follow Aokang’s lead. The announcement came as Trade Commissioner Mandelson presented a new strategy on improving EU-China relations, which warns the Asian giant to play by WTO rules and reject anti-competitive trading practices or face trade sanctions from the EU (see EurActiv 24 October 2006).
However, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce is backing its shoemakers, saying that measures taken by the EU “lack sufficient legal and factual evidence" and could cause the closure of over 1,000 businesses. Aokang’s President Wang Zhentao said: "China is an important member of the WTO and its firms have to use legal procedures to protect their interests," adding: "No matter how complicated the legal procedures are and how tough our task is, we believe in justice."
The debate over the duties had split EU members between those opposed to measures that would raise prices for consumers, such as Britain, Germany and Sweden, and countries that wanted to protect their domestic shoe industries from cheap imports, such as Italy and France.
The tariffs have also been criticised by the European Footwear Association of Importers and Retail chains (FAIR) which has stated that it is also looking into the possibility of taking legal measures against the decision.