BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union launched an anti-dumping probe into Chinese solar panels on Thursday after an industry association claimed the products were being exported for less than it costs to make them.
An EU statement said that in 2011 China exported solar panels and associated key components worth around €21 billion ($26.5 billion) to the 27-nation bloc.
The complaint is the biggest-ever anti-dumping claim filed with the EU. It was filed in July by a group of 25 producers of solar gear, including companies from Germany, Italy and Spain.
The statement said the investigation is expected to last 15 months. But "it is possible according to trade defense rules to impose provisional anti-dumping duties within 9 months, provided there is sufficient prima facie evidence of dumping."
EU Commission spokesman John Clancy said the bloc's executive was legally obliged to open the probe after receiving a valid complaint from an industrial grouping.
"This is part of a mature trading relationship," Clancy. "Trade defense is part of this relationship."
China is the world's largest producer of solar panels, accounting for about two-thirds of global production. The EU opens an average of about 20 anti-dumping import cases a year. Just over half of them result in the imposition of duties.
Chinese manufacturers of the solar — or photovoltaic — panels have denied that they were receiving any illegal subsidies, noting that the industry is in the midst of a radical transition as the cost of such products drop.
The companies have warned that Beijing could retaliate. Nearly 60 percent of China's $35.8 billion in exports of solar products went to Europe last year, making the bloc China's largest export market.
In Beijing, China's Ministry of Commerce expressed "deep regret," and urged the EU to resolve trade frictions over solar panels through negotiations.
"Restricting photovoltaic cells not only hurts the interests of industries on both sides but also will destroy the healthy development of the global PV industry and clean energy," spokesman Shen Danyang said in a statement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the issue with Chinese officials during her visit to Beijing last week. Germany prefers solving this problem through negotiations, rather than an EU investigation.
In May, the U.S. Commerce Department decided to levy tariffs against several Chinese manufacturers, alleging they illegally sold their products below cost.
Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.