My favourite pair of shoes was made in China, the most comfortable I have ever had.

They are too chunky to be smart, but after three years still look better than new if I bother to clean them. I bought them in America, for about $60, far less than they would have cost at home.

They bore a proud New England brand name and were no doubt made strictly according to the New England shoe company's specifications. What they lack is any resemblance to the light-weight footwear - from crumbling sandals to sleek mock-Gucci - that I remember seeing in China.

They are tough, workaday shoes designed for the American market. Nobody in China would buy them.

The point is that Peter Mandelson, as European trade commissioner, has spent the last six months examining a complaint from Italy, Spain and Portugal - Europe's main shoe-making countries - that the Chinese are "dumping" shoes in Europe.

The British Retail Consortium fears that the outcome may be a replay of last year's costly and chaotic "bra wars", this time fought with shoes.

A bunch of British retailers are meeting a Chinese trade minister, Gua Hucheng, today in an effort to persuade him to strike a deal with Mr Mandelson.

The problem is plain to see. China's exports of shoes to Europe multiplied sevenfold when the textile trade quotas came off last year and the Italian shoe industry, in particular, took a brutal hit.

But "dumping" - exporting goods for less than you charge in your home market - is not the issue. The shoes the Chinese export would never sell in China. Like most successful exports, they are made to appeal to the foreigners for whom they are intended.

Their appeal to British shopkeepers is simply that they are cheaper than mass-market shoes from continental Europe.

Mr Mandelson may try to fudge the issue, shield the continental cobblers for a while. But these things rarely work as intended.

When Slimma, in Stoke-on-Trent, found knitwear they ordered from China blocked under the "bra wars", they shifted the output to Turkey - not Scotland.