Chinese light-bulb imports spark EU controversy

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A row is brewing over a proposal by UK Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson to scrap EU anti-dumping duties of up to 66% on energy-efficient light bulbs imported from China, as his German counterpart, in charge of industry, Günter Verheugen, attempts to block the move. 

The Commissioners will debate the issue of whether to lift the five-year-old duties at their weekly meeting on 29 August. 

EU trade chief Peter Mandelson is pushing for the punitive tariff to be lifted completely – a move that could see the price paid by consumers cut by around two thirds. He has the support of a majority of European producers, including the Dutch electronics group Philips, which outsources the manufacturing of its power-saving bulbs to China. 

But German industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen is opposed to the move, claiming that it could cause job losses for Germany’s national light-bulb manufacturer Osram, as below-cost imports from China flow into the EU. He is expected to call for a compromise in the form of a two-year extension of duties. 

Earlier in July, a spokesperson for Mandelson dismissed such claims, saying that it was purely “a question of commercial competition between two European companies” and that “Osram is seeking to continue anti-dumping measures because they hit Philips proportionately harder”. 

However, according to the Foreign Trade Association (FTA), an umbrella group of importers and retailers in Europe, Verheugen could have the support of a number of his colleagues, such as Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs. 

FTA Legal Advisor Stuart Newman pointed to the “absurdity” of maintaining tariffs at a time when the EU is attempting to increase the use of green technologies in order to achieve its dual goal of cutting energy use and CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020. Lighting accounts for around 14% of electricity use in the EU and experts say that replacing traditional light bulbs with power-saving ones could offset CO2 emissions by 25 million tonnes per year. 

Furthermore, the Commission is currently looking to phase out ordinary light bulbs completely (EURACTIV 06/06/07) and European manufacturers are thought to be unable to meet total demand in this growing market. 

“We cannot believe that it is in the interests either of European industry or of consumers to continue these measures,” Newman told EURACTIV. 

But the issue is also seen as a test case for the future of the EU’s anti-dumping policy, currently under review (EURACTIV 08/12/06). A number of EU nations fear that it could be used as a precedent in future cases for the EU to give more weight to the interests of companies producing or sourcing goods in countries with cheap labour costs, such as China, than to those with production based in Europe – a move that manufacturing countries such as Spain, Italy and a number of new member states are likely to resist. 

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