Brussels is considering whether to impose duties on shoe imports from China and Vietnam amid claims they have been dumping goods in Europe.
Chinese shoe exports to the EU are worth 241m euros.
EU ministers are hearing arguments from trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, who says there is strong evidence that cut-price imports are hurting EU firms.
If approved, import duties could begin in April, rising to 19% for Chinese goods within six months.
China has urged the EU to reconsider, saying the planned measures are unfair.
The decision comes as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) prepares to discuss trade tariffs and subsidies at a meeting in London this weekend.
One of the big stumbling blocks to a world agreement on trade has been US and European decisions to impose so-called "anti-dumping" measures on clothing and textile imports from East Asia.
Brussels is worried that a surge in shoe imports from China and Vietnam could force domestic footwear manufacturers out of business.
Last month, Mr Mandelson said there was "compelling evidence" of leather shoe imports being sold below cost, breaking global trade rules on legitimate pricing.
He proposed initial duties of 4% starting on 6 April, rising to 19.4% and 16.8% respectively for Chinese and Vietnamese products.
The proposed sanctions must be approved by a majority of the EU's 25 member states.
Mr Mandelson said low-cost Asian producers were making life difficult for European firms, but stressed that Brussels would only act where there was clear evidence of abuse of competition.
"I am not going to misuse trade defence instruments to offer protection to European producers. They have to distinguish between what is tough competition and what is unfair trade," Mr Mandelson said.
Chinese officials said there was no evidence of dumping and questioned whether the duties would conform with World Trade Organization rules.
"The European Union's accusations lack basis," said Wang Shichun, director-general of the Commerce Ministry's bureau of fair trade.
"European products did not suffer actual harm."
Brussels is studying complaints from EU firms about alleged cut-price imports of a range of goods, from plastic bags to strawberries.