China said yesterday it would hold talks with the European Union this week in a bid to resolve a dispute over solar panels and other business issues, as tensions between the two risk escalating into a trade war.
The two sides have "tentatively decided" to hold the annual ministerial-level meeting of the joint economic and trade commission on Friday in Beijing, said Shen Danyang, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce.
"At this conference, the two sides will seriously review what happened over the past year in bilateral trade relations and study how to resolve [the] problems, including the dispute over photovoltaic [solar panel] trade," he told reporters.
China's Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will jointly preside over the talks, Shen added.
"We believe both sides will cherish the chance and … in a pragmatic manner make joint efforts to reach an agreement [on the solar issue]," he said.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, levied an initial average tariff of 11.8 per cent this month, which will rise to 47.6 per cent on August 6 if there are no negotiations based on a Chinese commitment to address the problem.
In addition to solar cells, Brussels and Beijing are also involved in a series of disputes covering other products, ranging from steel pipes to wine, that have sparked fears of a trade war.
China said this month it will deal "appropriately" with the EU's decision to challenge it at the World Trade Organisation after Beijing slapped duties on some steel products.
China has launched a probe into imports of EU wine and chemicals amid accusations it is selling goods below cost - a process known as "dumping" - while the EU has threatened an investigation into the country's telecommunications equipment firms.
Total trade between the two sides fell 3.7 per cent year on year in 2012, with China's imports from the bloc rising 0.4 per cent to US$212 billion, while shipments in the opposite direction tumbled 6.2 per cent to US$334 billion, Chinese customs data showed.
According to Chinese industry figures, China exported US$35.8 billion of solar products in 2011, more than 60 per cent of them to the EU, while it imported US$7.5 billion of European solar equipment and raw materials.