* Lawmakers, Commission tussle over new trade defence rules
* European firms say China benefits from credits, subsidies
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, Feb 5 The European Parliament pressed
the EU's trade chief on Wednesday to build stronger defences
against cheap imports from China, saying the European Union
needed broad new powers to stand up to the world's
The European Union's trade chief Karel De Gucht is seeking
to update the tools that Brussels uses to fight unfair trade
practices and that date from before China's transformation into
a powerful exporter. Some in Europe say the rules are too soft.
EU lawmakers want to go further than a proposal by the
European Commission, which handles international trade matters
on behalf of EU countries. They want to make it easier for small
companies to take on countries that flaunt world trade rules by
exporting goods at below the cost of production.
Legislators also want to do away with a European rule that
limits punitive sanctions to only what is absolutely necessary
to correct any injury caused by illegally subsidised imports.
"The parliament's position is a lot more radical," said
Christofer Fjellner, the lawmaker who is leading negotiations
with the Commission on the issue. "I know it has been very
controversial but many member states are opposed to the
Commission's original proposal," he said, speaking after votes
in the parliament in Strasbourg.
Although the rules do not mention China by name, the
majority of the EU's trade disputes are with Chinese companies.
Trade between Europe and China has doubled since 2003 to
more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) a day, but relations
are often tense. Of the 12 cases that ended in the imposition of
punitive duties by the European Commission last year, seven
The most serious was a multi-billion-euro dispute over
Chinese exports of solar panels, the biggest ever trade clash
between Brussels and Beijing, one that was resolved only after
both sides agreed a minimum price for the panels.
A group of European solar equipment makers including
Germany's Solar World said last year that China's
trade practices had already meant 15,000 lost jobs and 30
bankruptcies in Europe's solar sector.
When drawing up the new rules, De Gucht is eager not to
send the wrong message or make trade defence instruments seem
protectionist and upset often delicate ties with partners
ranging from Beijing to Buenos Aires.
Officials believe the Commission's proposal is enough to
give Brussels more leverage against Beijing and to ease firms'
fears of retaliation in cases involving the powerful Asian
"The strength of the EU's trade defence instruments lie in
their balance and proportionality in the application of
measures," De Gucht told the parliament. "Balance remains the
key word in this modernisation process."
Three-way negotiations between the parliament, Commission
and EU governments are expected to start next month, with a view
to agreeing the rules before De Gucht's term ends later this
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)