Greens see red after EU keeps duty on light bulbs

THE European Commission is under fire from green campaigners and retailers for plans to extend duties on energy-efficient light bulbs from China.

The Chinese light bulbs have been subject to import duties since 2001, because the commission says the products are sold in EU markets for less than their true value.

Yesterday, EU commissioners met in Brussels and agreed to keep tariffs of 66 per cent in place, despite calls from green campaigners to bring down the price of energy-efficient light bulbs to encourage consumers to make greener choices.

Johannes Laitenberger, a spokesman for the commission, said it was in the "overall community interest" to keep the tariffs in place to help European manufacturers to adjust to "a changing market reality".

The proposal must be approved by member states in September, but commission officials think it will be passed.

Environmental groups have slammed the decision as being inconsistent with the European Union's targets to improve energy efficiency and lead the world in tackling climate change.

Experts at the European office of the Wordwide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimate a faster take-up of energy-efficient light bulbs could save 23 million tonnes of carbon per year, the equivalent of 0.5 per cent of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this year, European leaders agreed to phase out ordinary bulbs as part of ambitious plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, compared with 1990 levels.

The switch to energy-efficient bulbs will be a major shake-up for industry.

Around 270 million energy-efficient bulbs are sold each year, compared with two billion ordinary (incandescent) lightbulbs. Energy-efficient bulbs are three to six times more expensive than ordinary ones, although they last five times longer.

Both Philips and General Electric, two electronics giants, wanted restrictions lifted. They argue that Europe needs cheap energy-efficient bulbs from China to meet growing demand. However, Osram, a German company, opposes ending the duties.

While a majority of member states were amenable to scrapping anti-dumping measures, Germany has lobbied hard to keep the restrictions in place for longer.

Speaking on behalf of the British Retail Consortium, Alisdair Gray said the proposal to extend anti-dumping measures was unjustified.

"We are really disappointed in it, because it has no basis in law; it's just caving in to one company, Osram," he said.

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