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Protective measures will dent EU's green goals: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-07 20:41

This file photo taken on March 1, 2023 shows European Union flags flying outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. [Photo/Agencies]

With the European solar power industry increasingly finding itself in difficulties, it is no surprise that some in Europe are seeking to adopt protective measures to deal with what they view as "unfair Chinese competition", including antidumping probes and emergency curbs on access to the European Union market for Chinese imports.

Europe's local solar panel manufacturers are said to have hit crisis point mainly due to cheaper imports and oversupply, with the sector warning half of its capacity could shut down within weeks unless emergency actions are taken.

China, which is playing an irreplaceable role in the global renewable energy sector, accounts for more than 90 percent of Europe's solar panel supply. The country is also the EU's leading source of wind turbine imports.

Yet, while it is easy to make Chinese enterprises the scapegoat for Europe's industrial woes, the EU must carefully consider the substantial impact any restrictive actions will likely have on its ambitious green goals.

"Any potential measure needs to be weighed against the objectives we have set ourselves when it comes to the energy transition," the EU's financial services commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, told the European Parliament on Monday.

The EU has set a target of 750 gigawatts of solar power generation capacity by 2030, up from 260 GW in 2023, yet European companies produced only 3 percent of the solar panels they installed last year. It is largely thanks to Chinese imports — which have helped drive solar prices down by around 40 percent — that EU countries installed record levels of solar capacity last year, 40 percent more than in 2022. Any trade restrictions on Chinese solar imports could stall the continent's rapid expansion of green energy and make 90 percent of the photovoltaic panel market more expensive, as German Economy Minister Robert Habeck wrote in a letter he sent to the European Commission in November. The move also risks causing bankruptcies among EU companies that assemble and install solar panels using imported parts, he added.

The leading position that China currently holds in the global renewable energy sector can be attributed to factors ranging from a huge domestic market and massive investment in research and development to economies of scale. Trade defense measures targeting Chinese companies will only lead to a lose-lose result, and will by no means save Europe's solar panel manufacturing. Rather, it could cause deep decline in its solar panel deployment.

Clean energy cooperation is a major part of the China-EU strategic partnership, as the two sides are committed to tackling climate change. They should work together to reinforce engagement in that regard, rather than making any move to weaken it.

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