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By Anneli Palmen and Christoph Steitz
DUESSELDORF/FRANKFURT, July 25 The solar industry's ongoing trade war reached Europe after a group of solar companies, led by Germany's SolarWorld, filed an anti-dumping complaint against Chinese rivals with the European Commission, a person familiar with the matter said.
A spokesman for SolarWorld -- which had previously signalled its intention to submit a complaint -- declined to comment, saying only that the group would publish a press release on the matter at the end of the week.
SolarWorld spearheaded a similar initiative in the United States, leading the world's largest economy in May to impose duties on solar panel imports from China, and ruling in favour of local firms that accused Chinese firms of price dumping.
Under the U.S. decision, 59 Chinese solar companies are facing an import duty of about 31 percent, including Yingli Green Energy, LDK Solar, Canadian Solar , Hanwha Solar One, JA Solar Holding and Jinko Solar.
Depending on the size of potential duties in Europe, punitive action could deal another massive blow to Chinese makers of cells and modules.
Europe is still the most important market for solar products, accounting for 74 percent of global installations in 2011, according to industry association EPIA.
It is also the main market for Chinese producers of cells and modules which have been eating away market share vis-à-vis their European peers for years.
In 2011, 57 percent of all solar cells were produced in China, with Taiwan a distant second at 11 percent, data by industry publication Photon showed. At close to 7 percent, Germany - the world's largest solar market by total installations - came third.
Western solar companies have been at odds with their Chinese counterparts for years, alleging they receive lavish credit lines to offer modules at cheaper prices, while European players struggle to refinance.
Experts fear trade action in Europe could take the trade war to the next level, prompting China to retaliate by taking similar measures against Western solar companies.
Last week, China said it would open investigations into imported U.S. and South Korean solar-grade polysilicon.
The SolarWorld-led submission drew protests from large parts of the industry, that have been arguing that a trade war would hurt all parts of the solar sector.
"We hope that the European Commission will recognise that any protectionist measures would harm the entire European solar industry and that a misguided trade war would undermine years of progress," said Jerry Stokes, head of European business at China's Suntech, the world's No.1 maker of solar cells.
The U.S.-based Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) said it was "very disheartened by SolarWorld's unnecessary and destructive actions and urge the EU to reject their petition".
The European Commission declined to comment.
Following the submission of the industry complaint, the Commission has 45 calendar days to decide whether there are enough grounds to proceed with an investigation.
If the Commission goes ahead with an investigation, it has nine months to decide whether to impose provisional duties and must conclude its investigation within 15 months.
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