made in china.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Martin Abegglen, used under CC BY-SA

The European Union's executive is seeking public feedback over the future of the bloc's trade relations with Beijing, it announced Wednesday, with a decision looming on how to handle cheap Chinese imports without harming its economy and job market.

China is the EU's largest supplier of goods, but the bloc has argued that many of its imports illegally undercut European prices, imposing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on products ranging from solar panels to ceramic tiles and ironing boards.

The rules for calculating fair Chinese export prices were agreed in 2001, when Beijing joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). But part of these provisions will expire at the end of 2016.

By then, the EU must decide how to react in order to protect its own industry, without harming relations with Beijing.

The European Commission is giving stakeholders such as manufacturers, industry associations and trade unions 10 weeks to say whether, and if so, how, the EU should change its treatment of China in future anti-dumping investigations.

If the EU grants China so-called market economy status - which would mean domestic prices are a fair basis for calculating the cost of exported goods - the bloc could lose up to 211,000 jobs in the long term if it does not retain any trade defence tools, the commission estimates.

By keeping some anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties in place, this impact could be cut in half, it has said in an initial analysis.

The public consultation will feed into an in-depth assessment of the economic effects on the EU's 28 member states of any decision taken, focusing in particular on job losses, the commission said.

Europe's economy has experienced stubbornly high levels of unemployment, while struggling to rev up its growth engine after emerging from recession in 2013.

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