EU trade chief wants speedy end to solar row with China

June 21, 2013
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EU president in discussion/FILE
EU president in discussion/FILE

, BEIJING, Jun 21 – The European Union’s trade chief said Friday that Brussels desires a speedy end to a trade dispute with Beijing over tariffs it imposed on Chinese solar panels, but suggested it could take time.

“The EU has only one wish: to achieve a negotiated settlement as soon as possible on the basis of undertakings that can remove the injury on our markets, nothing more, nothing less,” EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told reporters.

“The EU hopes to achieve an amicable solution.”

De Gucht spoke after morning talks with Gao Hucheng, China’s Minister of Commerce at the annual meeting of the two sides’ joint economic and trade commission.

Gao, appearing with De Gucht, said: “Both sides have the wish and goodwill to address the solar panel issue” through discussions about prices.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, this month imposed an average tariff of 11.8 percent on solar panel imports from China — rising to 47.6 percent on August 6 if there are no negotiations based on a Chinese commitment to address the problem.

De Gucht said that he and Gao had yet to take up the issue of solar panels, but added that they would do so.

He was cautious, however, saying: “This kind of issue is rarely solved overnight.”

De Gucht was due to speak to reporters again later Friday.

In addition to solar cells, Brussels and Beijing are also involved in a series of disputes covering other products, ranging from steel pipes to wine, that have sparked fears of a trade war.

China said this month it will deal “appropriately” with the EU’s decision to challenge it at the World Trade Organisation after Beijing slapped duties on some steel products.

Beijing has launched a probe into imports of EU wine and chemicals amid accusations it is selling goods below cost — a process known as “dumping” — while the EU has threatened an investigation into the country’s telecom equipment firms.

The tit-for-tat trade measures have triggered concerns over the repercussions they may cause to broader business relations between the two.

Total trade between the two sides fell 3.7 percent year-on-year in 2012, with China’s imports from the bloc rising 0.4 percent to $212 billion, while shipments in the opposite direction tumbled 6.2 percent to $334 billion, Chinese customs data showed.

Chinese commerce ministry spokesman Shen Danyang told reporters this week that the talks would “seriously review what happened over the past year in bilateral trade relations and study how to resolve problems, including the dispute over photovoltaic (solar panel) trade”.

The EU said this week that the solar panel issue would not be on the official agenda of the meeting, but De Gucht and Gao were expected to discuss it on the sidelines.

China and the EU earlier this week in Brussels began what the EU described as “confidential technical-level discussions” in an attempt “to find a negotiated settlement.”

The tariffs on solar panels are provisional for six months, with EU member states having a vote in December on whether to make them permanent or not.

According to Chinese industry figures, China exported $35.8 billion of solar products in 2011, more than 60 percent of them to the EU, while it imported $7.5 billion-worth of European solar equipment and raw materials.

 

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