Politics is complicating the trade dispute between China and the EU over solar panels. Meanwhile, the two are drifting towards a trade war neither wants.
Last September, the European Commission launched an anti-dumping investigation in to China’s $25 billion-worth of solar panel exports (2011 sales) to Europe. Beijing made a tit-for-tat response, threatening duties on EU exports of polysilicon, which is used in making solar panels.
Which is pretty much where things still stand. China’s leadership transition and the likely departure of trade minister Chen Deming in March has left everything in stasis.
Yet the trade disputes clock is ticking down. Beijing is to due to make a decision on polysilicon duties by the end of this month. The outcome of the EU investigation has to decided by mid-April so EU officials can make a formal recommendation in June to the European Commission on how to proceed.
These investigations overwhelmingly lead to the imposition of anti-dumping duties (only in one case over the past four years has it not), though EU leaders have shown no appetite to follow the U.S. in imposing duties on Chinese solar products. They don’t want any retaliation that might make recovery from Europe’s recession more difficult.
Yet there is no wiggle room in the European timetable. That will not leave much time for a new trade minister in Beijing to get his feet under the table, let alone negotiate a resolution to what is anyway a tricky trade dispute.