French importers have joined a protest by Hong Kong handbag manufacturers against proposed tariffs by the European Commission, the territory's exporters say. Beatriz Tancock, a director of exporter Manassas, said about 60 French companies would assist in the campaign to prevent the 39.2 per cent tariffs being imposed. The exporters said they would be crippled by the tariffs which were targeted at mainland producers but which caught Hong Kong companies contracting with mainland factories. They have formed a lobby group and have written an open letter to the commission in Brussels. The letter states: 'We refute, in the strongest terms, the allegations that we are dumping our products on European Community markets at prices below economic cost. 'Our manufacturing operations in China are also strictly commercial enterprises and our individual marketing strategies are totally free from any influence from local, provincial or state authorities.' Handbags made in China and exported through Hong Kong to the European Union last year were worth about $1.9 billion. Hong Kong exporters said a European Commission investigation into the industry, which formed the basis of the proposed tariffs, had caught them by surprise. The commission has said it would consider appeals against the tariffs only from companies which had co-operated during its inquiry. One company, Jane Shilton, which has offices in Kowloon and London and a factory on the mainland, has been exempted while another, Lee & Man Handbag Manufacturers, faces a reduced tariff of 30.7 per cent. Both companies are believed to have made representations to the European Union during its consultative period which started in April last year and ended on February 3. The letter states: 'Whilst the industry in Hong Kong did not explain its case to the commission at the time [of the inquiry], we believe that given the strength of feeling against the measures both in Hong Kong and Europe, it is incumbent upon the commission to immediately institute a review of the issues such that the correct facts are made available to the commission.' Ms Tancock said that 1,000 Hong Kong-based manufacturers and exporters and 2,400 factories on the mainland could be hit by the anti-dumping measures that were expected to take effect in August. She said the exporters were willing to give the commission every opportunity to fully understand its manufacturing and marketing operations and would comply with all requests for information. 'We are confident that on completion of such an investigation the commission will clearly see that we are not dumping handbag products in European markets at prices that are less than economic manufacturing and marketing costs.'