PARIS (Reuters) - France's trade ministry condemned on Wednesday China's move to open an anti-dumping probe on European wine imports, saying the move was inappropriate and warning that Paris would defend its producers.
Beijing announced the anti-dumping probe on Wednesday, hitting back at European wine exports in response to the bloc's decision to impose duties on imports of Chinese solar panels.
"We're taking this very seriously," a ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity said, warning there was a risk of escalation if China put in place quick measures without respecting World Trade Organization rules.
"The way this was presented seems to us inappropriate and reprehensible, namely the fact that the case is not treated on its own merit but because a decision was taken in another area" the official said, referring to solar panel duties.
China's step - seen as less severe than if it had targeted major industrial exports such as Airbus aircraft - affects southern European states such as France that back the solar panel duties but largely spares north European opponents such as Germany.
China is the third biggest export market for French wines and spirits by value, worth 1 billion euros ($1.31 billion) in 2012 or nine percent of France's total wine and spirits exports, according to the FEVS producers' federation.
The French trade ministry official said Paris would be in touch with the European Commission, which is charged with Europe's trade policy, and would ask it to make sure world trade rules were enforced.
Reporting by Yann Le Guernigou; Writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by Mark John