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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 17:25 GMT
Jeans battle in European court
Pair of jeans
The dispute has been running for nearly three years
The Tesco supermarket chain went to the European Court of Justice on Friday as part of its campaign to sell Levi Strauss jeans in its stores.

It is fighting for the right to import branded products and sell them at a discount without being threatened with legal action by the manufacturers.

The dispute started more than two years ago when Tesco sold Levi 501s for 30 in selected stores - 15 lower than the average shop price.

But, following a similar case, the European Court of Justice banned the sale of branded goods bought through unauthorised channels outside the European Union - on the so-called 'grey market'.

Woman shopping
"A button-fly slim fit and some satsumas, please..."
That ruling meant designer goods made outside the EU could not be sold legally in the UK without the permission of the manufacturer.

Tesco claims this allows the brands to control the amount of stock entering Europe, thereby stifling competition and keeping prices high.

The supermarket argues that once goods are purchased, the new owner can do as they wish, without being dictated to by the seller.

"Our mission is to bring down prices in the UK," said Tesco's John Gildersleeve.

"Currently we are fighting outrageous and outdated legal principles that are preventing our customers getting a better deal.

"We want the European Court to clarify that these principles have no place in the 21st century."

Stack of Levis
Supermarkets are the wrong setting for designer products, say the makers
Other big-names Tesco has stocked include Adidas, Fila, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Nike. In total it says it has cut prices on grey market products by 30m.

Manufacturers claim that supermarkets do not offer the right setting for their products and say staff might not be able to give customers relevant advice on their goods.

MPs on the Trade and Industry Select Committee have backed the campaign by Tesco and rival supermarket Asda.

The case was referred to Europe by the High Court in London. Friday's hearing involved a brief presentation of oral and written evidence.

It could be several weeks before a verdict is reached.

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See also:

08 Jul 99 |  UK Politics
MPs back cheaper designer goods
06 Aug 98 |  The Company File
Supermarkets defy designer ban
16 Jul 98 |  The Economy
Designer imports ruled illegal
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