BEIJING/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission launched an investigation on Friday into the import of electronic bikes, or e-bikes, from China, prompting Beijing to warn Europe not to slip into protectionism.
It will be the latest in a string of European Union probes into Chinese exports ranging from solar panels to steel.
The European Bicycle Manufacturers Association (EBMA) lodged a complaint in September, saying that Chinese companies were flooding the EU market with pedal-assist e-bikes at prices sometimes below the cost of production.
The Commission, which oversees trade policy among the EU’s 28 member states, said there was sufficient evidence to justify the start of an anti-dumping investigation of up to 15 months.
China’s commerce ministry said it would defend its companies’ interests and urged the EU to respect World Trade Organization rules.
“The Chinese government will closely watch the development of the case, and take necessary measures to resolutely defend Chinese companies’ legitimate interests,” ministry official Wang Hejun said in a statement.
He warned the EU to not let it become a “new case of trade protectionism”.
Bicycles have already been a flashpoint. The EU accused China last December of scuttling a global environmental trade deal by insisting that bicycles be included as a tariff-free green product. Conventional Chinese bicycles have been subject to EU anti-dumping duties since 1993.
EBMA Secretary General Moreno Fioravanti said in a statement that he strongly welcomed the start of the EU investigation and that his group had also asked the Commission to register Chinese e-bike imports. This would allow anti-dumping duties to be imposed retroactively.
The group also hopes for a related subsidy inquiry into the support provided by the Chinese state.
The EBMA said more than 430,000 Chinese e-bikes were sold in the EU in 2016, a 40 percent increase on the previous year, and forecasts the figure will rise to around 800,000 in 2017.
The group said European companies had pioneered the pedal-assist technology that e-bikes use and had invested about 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) last year, but risked losing its industry to China.
“If this dumping is not stopped, China will quickly grab an e-bike monopoly in Europe,” Fioravanti said.
Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie/Jeremy Gaunt