EU faces legal challenge over extension of Chinese light bulb duties

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EU ministers have approved a Commission decision to extend anti-dumping duties on imports of energy-saving light bulbs from China, despite protests from environmentalists and a number of leading European companies.

Foreign ministers gave the green light to a Commission proposal to prolong for one more year anti-dumping tariffs of up to 66% that have been imposed on bulbs originating in China, Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam since 2001. 

The decision followed an investigation carried out by the Commission, which found that it is in the interest of the Community to retain the measures in order to allow companies to adjust to changing market conditions. 

Germany’s national light-bulb manufacturer Osram, in particular, had been complaining that low-cost imports from China would cause large job losses in the EU’s largest economy (EURACTIV 29/08/07). 

However, a number of European companies, including Dutch electronics group Philips and Swedish retailer Ikea, who import large quantities of power-saving bulbs from China, have criticised the move. And an Italian lighting firm, Targetti Sankey, has announced that it would be challenging the Commission’s decision in court on the basis that its investigation was flawed. 

If it wins its case, not only would the extension be declared void, but importers could also be entitled to “claim back from the EU hundreds of millions of euros in duties paid since 2001”, according to Targetti lawyer Maurizio Gambardella. 

The Foreign Trade Association (FTA), an umbrella group of importers and retailers in Europe, supported the challenge: “We cannot believe that it is in the interests either of European industry or of consumers to continue these measures,” said legal advisor Stuart Newman, pointing to the EU’s attempts to increase the use of green technologies and phase out the use of ordinary light bulbs completely (EURACTIV 06/06/07). 

The Targetti case also has the support of green groups, who insist that the decision is “seriously inconsistent” with EU targets to improve energy efficiency and fight climate change, because it will deter consumers from making a shift to more efficient lamps that could save 23 million tonnes of CO2 each year. 

However, many EU nations saw the issue as a test case for the future of the EU’s anti-dumping policy, currently under review (EURACTIV 08/12/06), fearing that it could be used as a precedent 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 whose production is based in Europe. 

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