EU opens new front in China trade battle with stone case

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has opened a new front in its trade battle with China by launching an investigation into alleged dumping by Chinese producers of stone used for counter tops and tiles.

The European Commission said on Friday it was starting the study after a complaint lodged last month by A.St.A., the European association of manufacturers of agglomerated stones.

The association accuses Chinese manufacturers of dumping - selling products below fair value or even cost price.

The EU market is worth an annual 480 million euros ($624 million), according to a source familiar with the case, with Chinese imports representing some 9 percent of that, making it a small to medium case for Commission investigators.

In the past two months, the Commission has imposed duties to counter dumping of Chinese solar panels and told Beijing it is prepared to launch an investigation into anti-competitive behavior by producers of mobile telecoms equipment.

EU solar panel imports from China totaled 21 billion euros in 2011. China has warned that duties on panels would seriously harm bilateral trade, and threatened to retaliate if an EU telecoms investigation begins. It has since launched anti-dumping and anti-subsidy inquiries into sales there of European wine.

A.St.A has 15 members, including six from Italy and two each from Spain and non-EU member Turkey.

Agglomerated stones are made from stone dust and particles mixed and stuck together with polymer resin, and are typically less expensive, less porous and harder than natural granite or marble. ($1 = 0.7691 euros)

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Mark Trevelyan