Slipping towards a Shoe War

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Slipping towards a Shoe War


PETER Mandelson's Italian brogues proved too slippery for the ice at the last Davos meeting. It was the beginning of an unhappy relationship between the EU trade commissioner and Italy's shoe industry, if threats this week of a 20 per cent rise in footwear prices on the British high street are anything to go by. Under pressure from Continental manufacturers, who claim they need protection against cheap imports, Mr Mandelson is threatening to slap heavy tariffs on the 950 million pairs of shoes made in China and sold in Europe each year. He has evidence that Far Eastern governments are subsidising their own footwear manufacturers and dumping dirt-cheap shoes on to European high streets. It is true that the remaining shoemaking industry in southern Europe - and what is left of the shoemaking industry in Britain - is under pressure from Asian competition.

However, tariffs that punish European consumers and retailers would bring their own problems. The Danish economics minister has said that the cost to European shoppers of more expensive shoes could be almost 10 times greater than the gain from protectionist tariffs for Europe's manufacturers. It is undeniably difficult for those manufacturers to cope with being undercut by Far Eastern imports. Since 1999, the number of workers in the British shoe industry has fallen from 14,700 to 6,400.

European shoe manufacturers must adjust by focusing on very high-value products - the Manolo end of the market - or on design and marketing for products run up in Asian factories. Indeed, EU companies making trainers already do just that. Beijing has so far reacted with restraint, but it would be an economic disaster if the government there was to respond to increasing trade tensions by making life more difficult for City of London banks and insurers hoping to win a bigger share of China's vast markets. At a time when the EU should be concentrating on creating the right conditions for knowledge-based industries, Mr Mandelson should think again.

Voicing their grief

AS WE report today, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, says that the Old Bailey is to become one of the first courts in which "victims' advocates" can speak on behalf of families who have been bereaved by manslaughter or murder.

The advocates can be either relatives of the dead or experts chosen by them and they will address the court before the judge passes sentence. …

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