BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU member states have approved a European Commission plan to register solar panels from China, EU diplomats said, as the latest step toward duties on the 21 billion euro ($28.08 billion) import market.
The solar panel import market is one of the biggest trade areas the Commission has ever tackled. Politicians have warned the tensions between the EU and China, its second largest trading partner, could erupt into a trade war.
On Wednesday, a regular meeting of representatives of EU member states approved the proposal to register panels, the sources said.
It would allow duties to be placed retroactively on China and its companies if they were found to have sold panels at less than the cost of making them.
The diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not say when the registration would begin.
The Commission launched a probe into the dumping of Chinese solar panels onto the EU market last September, and another in November into illegal subsidies made to Chinese panel makers.
Both cases stem from a complaint by European solar companies, led by Germany’s SolarWorld SWVG.DE, which claim to have suffered financial harm due to cheap Chinese-manufactured panels.
Chinese companies sold about 21 billion euros worth of solar panels and components to the EU in 2011 - about 60 percent of all Chinese exports of the product and some 7 percent of all Chinese exports to the EU, according to Commission figures.
On Tuesday, European solar installers said that 60 percent duties on Chinese panels could cost up to 242,000 jobs over three years.
Although the European Commission does not legally need member state approval to order the registration of products under trade investigations, their backing is a gauge of whether there is support for any eventual duties.
($1 = 0.7479 euros)
editing by Jim Marshall