Environmentalists are unhappy with a European Commission proposal to maintain long-running charges that raise the price on imported low-energy light bulbs from China.
Environmentalists say Brussels still hasn't seen the light
Despite Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson's push to let the six-year-old duties lapse when they expire in mid October, EU commissioners caved in to calls from European industry and agreed Wednesday that the anti-dumping measures initiated in 2001 should be extended for another year.
"In the overall interest of the community, "there are grounds to leave the possibility of continuing these anti-dumping measures for up to another year," Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told journalists.
"We have to balance environmental interests with the interest of fair trade," he added. "This is a rapid-changing market reality and so some transitional measures were warranted."
The Commission introduced the anti-dumping tariffs of up to 66 percent in 2001 after an investigation concluded that competition between EU and Chinese manufacturers was unfair.
The duties on the power-saving light bulbs made in China raise prices for European customers by up to two-thirds. For now, less than 20 percent of power-saving bulbs are made in Europe, while over two-thirds are imported from China.
But at the end of July, a majority of the experts gave backing to a proposal from Mandelson to let the duties lapse.
AFP news service reported that according to Mandelson's spokesman, only one out of four European producers had been keen to retain the trade charges. German lighting company Osram, a subsidiary of Siemens, had led calls to renew the duties because they hit Dutch rival Philips harder than Osram, though both companies produce in China.
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This week's decision, which contravenes the EU's intention to reduce its growing energy bill, has triggered outrage among environmentalists, who feel the Brussels' contradiction is deeply hypocritical.
Earlier this year, EU leaders proposed that traditional, but inefficient, incandescent bulbs be phased out across the bloc by 2009, as one of a series of measures aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
Environmentalists argue that the continued duties will restrict European consumers' access to cheaper, low-energy technology.
"(This proposal) is disappointing, unfair and seriously inconsistent with the ambitious EU targets to improve energy efficiency in Europe and to curb climate change," the conservation organization WWF said in a press release, quoted by AFP.
"On the one hand, Europe has committed to an ambitious energy efficiency objective, and on the other hand it continues to impose taxes on imports of green products," the group's trade and investment specialist Eivind Hoff said.
Osram wanted the charges to stay in place
Further resistance is expected to come from retailers, who may well see it as a means of protecting major EU producers.
"The Commission needs to put the environment before the narrow self-interests of a minority of member countries and scrap import duties on Chinese bulbs," the head of the British Retail Consortium, Kevin Hawkins, told The Independent newspaper.
According to AFP, the Conservative British EU lawmaker Syed Kamall described the decision as "farcical and indefensible."
"The light bulb industry wants the duties scrapped, consumers want them scrapped and common sense says they should be scrapped; yet the European Commission has once again bowed to protectionist pressures," he said.
The decision still has to be approved by anti-dumping experts from the European Union's member states.