By Daniel Hunter

New EU taxes on Chinese crockery and cookware are utterly at odds with the principles of free trade and will lead to pointless price rises for hard-pressed customers, said the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The European Commission announced the so called ‘anti-dumping' duties, today (Thursday), despite fierce opposition from a majority of member states, including the UK. From midnight tonight (start of Friday), they will add between 17.6 and 58.8 per cent to the dockside price of ceramic items including plates, cups and oven dishes arriving in the EU from China.

Anger at the move has been exacerbated because the Commission has given importers just 24 hours' notice of the new taxes.

The duties are the result of a nine-month investigation by the Commission into claims by an anonymous European manufacturer that Chinese producers are selling these into the EU at artificially low prices.

The EU market for ceramic tableware and kitchenware is worth 1.5 billion euros. Half of that (730 million euros-worth) comes from China. In volume terms, 80 per cent of all the EU's imports of ceramic tableware come from China.

It is estimated that the duties will add 287 million euros to importers' costs — a large sum which retailers will have to pass on to customers. And this is just the latest ‘anti-dumping' duty to be imposed by the Commission. Other targets have included ironing boards, bicycles and candles. The BRC has consistently argued against unjustified duties on consumer goods.

Stephen Robertson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium, said: "This is the wrong decision badly handled. The principle here is that free trade is good for the customer.

"It's disingenuous rubbish for the Commission to claim that these extra costs can be absorbed by retailers at a time when they're discounting non-food goods in the face of weak consumer demand. Let's be clear — these new duties will feed through to higher prices in stores. And, because China mainly supplies the value end of the market, they will deny less well-off customers access to affordable crockery.

"The irony is; making hard-pressed customers pay more will do nothing to support European producers who don't have the capacity to produce enough at low enough prices. Our members tell us that the only alternative for them, if they're forced to look elsewhere, will be to source from other low-cost Asian countries.

"What is particularly galling is that the European Commission — unelected Eurocrats — pressed ahead with this tax despite the majority of member states, including the UK, voting against.

"The way officials are treating businesses engaged in nearly three quarter of a billion euros of trade is utterly unacceptable. How can companies be expected to plan millions of pounds worth of buying with no certainty about whether their costs will rocket overnight?"

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