The European Union will not be drawn into a trade war with China, the EU's ambassador to the country said on Wednesday, a day after trade sources said the European Commission found that Beijing illegally subsidizes Chinese steel producers.
The Commission is investigating 37 dumping and subsidy cases, 21 of them involving China, and Tuesday's preliminary finding asked EU members to back punitive tariffs against Chinese steel firms, a move that angered Beijing.
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But EU Ambassador to China Markus Ederer said he was puzzled by and "flatly rejects" reports of a trade war between the two economies which together comprise the world's largest trade relationship.
"I don't want this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. First of all, it takes two for a war, and I can declare here that the EU is not available for a trade war with China," Ederer told a news briefing.
China's Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang on Wednesday called the Commission's investigation into steel subsidies "unreasonable".
"Such a conclusion based on unreasonable investigations will seriously hurt Chinese companies' legal rights and interests," Shen said at a separate news briefing.
European anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties affect less than 1 percent of Chinese exports to Europe, Ederer said.
"China, as well, has investigations, as you know, into European exports to China. We have no issue with that as long as it is under WTO rules," he said, adding that observers should not "over dramatize" the issue.
The Commission's ongoing investigations include a study of the alleged dumping of 21 billion euros of solar panels and components by Chinese producers. A preliminary ruling on that case, the Commission's largest investigation to date, is due in the first half of 2013.
The European Union is China's biggest trading partner while for the EU, China is second only to the United States.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Aileen Wang; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)