EU trade chief in row over light bulbs

BRUSSELS – European Union trade chief Peter Mandelson faces a new row in the bloc over Chinese imports as he tries to scrap anti-dumping duties on energy saving light bulbs. Mandelson told EU countries this week the punitive tariffs should not be renewed, trade diplomats said. The duties push up the price of energy saving bulbs from China by as much as 66 percent, at a time when the EU is chasing ambitious energy savings targets to fight climate change. But Mandelson faces opposition from Germany, home to Osram, the biggest maker of energy saving light bulbs in the EU. «We favor globalization but it has to be fair. Dumping is not fair competition,» an Osram spokeswoman said. Osram, part of the Siemens group, has had support from one of Mandelson’s peers, the German EU Enterprise Commissioner Gunther Verheugen, EU officials said. Other EU countries that see Mandelson as too much of a trade liberal are also likely to oppose his plan, the diplomats said. In the opposite camp is Dutch electronics group Philips, which imports large amounts of energy saving light bulbs from China and wants the duties scrapped. Several pro-free market European countries also back Mandelson, saying the case is a test of how Brussels should defend the interests of companies that import from outside the bloc and not just manufacturers based in the EU. «We need to recognize that the world economy has changed,» one of the diplomats said. The row hinges on Mandelson’s decision to consider Philips as a European producer of energy saving light bulbs, despite its high level of imports from outside the EU. That decision meant more than 50 percent of the European sector opposed a five-year extension of the duties, enough to justify the proposal. The EU split in 2005 and again in 2006 on how to deal with surging textiles, clothing and footwear imports from China. Mandelson is reviewing the EU’s anti-dumping rules to see whether they properly reflect the interests of importers and consumers. Some European manufacturers and governments fear that he might make it harder for companies to protect themselves. Mandelson’s proposal to scrap the light bulb duties will be discussed by national trade experts on July 26 and is likely to be put to ministers in September.