* China targeted European wine in response to solar row
* EU, China resolved solar dispute at the weekend
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, July 29 China has agreed to discuss
dropping its inquiry into whether Europe is dumping wine, the
EU's trade chief said on Monday, after EU and Chinese officials
made a deal to avoid tariffs on solar panels from China.
After resolving their biggest trade dispute yet, Beijing and
Brussels will tackle accusations that French, Spanish and
Italian wine is being exported for sale at below the cost of
production, as well as another dispute over exports of
polysilicon, a raw material used in solar panels.
"There is a window for discussions between the European
Union and Chinese (wine) producers," EU Trade Commissioner Karel
De Gucht told a news conference. "The Chinese government has
promised to facilitate such discussions," he said.
China's openness to resolving a string of related disputes
could signal an easing of tensions between two of the world's
biggest economies, but their relationship remains delicate as
both sides seek to protect industries from unfair competition.
Europe is China's most important trading partner, while for
the EU, China is second only to the United States, but ties are
strained as China seeks to increase its production of
sophisticated products that Europe makes.
De Gucht said he remains ready to launch an investigation
into Chinese mobile telecom equipment producers suspected of
dumping and illegal subsidies, after first warning Beijing of a
possible inquiry in May.
In the solar dispute, De Gucht reached a deal with Beijing
on Saturday by setting a minimum price for Chinese solar panel
imports in Europe, which were worth 21 billion euros ($27
billion) last year.
Underscoring the tensions, French Trade Minister Nicole
Bricq said France was reserving judgment on the solar agreement,
which some analysts said was too generous to the Chinese because
the minimum import price is the current market price.
"We are currently waiting to know the exact terms of the
accord before pronouncing on it," she said in a statement.
BORDEAUX SALES SURGE
The wine dispute dates back to the EU's initial plan to
impose punitive duties on solar panels in June, when China
launched an anti-dumping inquiry into European wine sales in a
retaliatory move that could lead to duties on exporters in
France, Spain and Italy.
China is the world's biggest importer of Bordeaux wines and
consumption soared 110 percent in 2011. France called the
decision to consider duties "inappropriate and reprehensible".
EU wine exports to China excluding Hong Kong, which EU
officials said was not covered by the investigation, reached
257.3 million litres in 2012 for a value of nearly $1 billion.
More than half - 139.5 million litres - came from France.
China's commerce ministry could not confirm any freeze into
its wine investigation.
A lawyer representing the Chinese industry association that
filed the wine complaint said the firm had not received any
notice on the freezing of the probe, the website
"The relevant investigation is still proceeding regularly,"
Yao Fengwen, a lawyer with Bo Heng (Beijing B&H Associates) law
firm, told the site.
Wine sales are only a fraction of overall exports to China,
but the threat of duties appeared to be symbolic because France
and Italy were in favour of hefty levies on Chinese solar
panels, while Germany and Britain opposed them.
An official at Germany's economy ministry told Reuters that
Berlin had been reassured that "it is part of the current
agreement that China abstains from measures relating to
Germany's Wacker Chemie is the world's second
biggest maker of polysilicon and would be hurt by any tariffs in
China. Beijing placed duties on U.S. and South Korean
polysilicon exports earlier this month.