The European Commission agreed to impose punitive import duties on solar panels from China in a move to guard against what it sees as dumping of cheap goods in Europe, prompting a cautious response from Beijing, which called for further dialogue.
EU commissioners backed EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht’s proposal to levy the provisional duties by June 6 and make Chinese solar exports less attractive, two officials said.
The bloc is planning to impose tariffs of as much as 67.9 percent on solar panels from China, an official said on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity.
The duties, which will affect more than 100 Chinese companies and average 47.6 percent, will be the preliminary outcome of a dumping inquiry that the commission opened in September last year, the official said.
The probe is due to end in early December, by which time EU governments must decide whether to impose “definitive” anti-dumping duties for five years.
The dumping investigation covers 21 billion euros (US$27.6 billion) of EU imports in 2011 of crystalline silicon photovoltaic panels, and cells and wafers used in them. European companies, including Solarworld AG, Germany’s largest maker of the renewable-energy technology, are demanding punitive levies to counter growing competition from China following similar US trade protection.
The US levied its own duties on Chinese solar energy products last year, arguing that China’s rapid expansion into the industry had created a massive oversupply.
Shares in German manufacturers SolarWorld, Phoenix Solar and Centrotherm rose as much as 7 percent on Wednesday on the decision, while Frankfurt-listed shares in China’s Suntech (尚德) were down more than 4 percent.
Chinese WTO Ambassador Yi Xiaozhun (易小準) called the decision a mistake, although he declined to comment on any possible retaliation.
“It will send the wrong message to the world that protectionism is coming,” Yi said in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
China’s Commerce Ministry yesterday called for dialogue.
“We don’t want to see a trade war between the two sides and we hope the EU can cautiously make the ruling decision on China’s solar panel products,” spokesman Yao Jian (姚堅) told reporters.
Given that Germany and France are seeking to increase exports to China, De Gucht will try for a negotiated solution with new Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng (高虎城) before an EU deadline in December to cement the levies for up to five years.
That could mean agreeing a minimum price at which all solar panels makers selling in Europe adhere to, diplomats said.
Chinese solar panel production quadrupled between 2009 and 2011 to more than the entire global demand. EU producers say Chinese companies have captured more than 80 percent of the European market from almost zero a few years ago, exporting 21 billion euros to the EU in 2011.
As a result, Chinese-made panels are as much as 45 percent cheaper than those made in Europe, industry executives say.
Europe accounted for half of the global market last year, which was worth US$77 billion, according to research firm IHS.