European trade commissioner Karel De Gucht has accused China of forcing EU member states to oppose duties against Chinese solar manufacturers.

In a statement following a meeting yesterday with Chinese vice minister of commerce Zhong Shan, De Gucht said the EC would resist apparent attempts by the Chinese to influence EU member states to oppose trade measures.

His comments follow news that 17 EU member states opposed potential duties on Chinese manufacturers, as revealed by the minister for energy and climate change, Greg Barker.

De Gucht said he was “aware of the pressure being exerted by China on a number of EU member states which explains why they [the member states] are positioning themselves as they are in their advisory positions towards the European Commission”, but said the EC would “resist any external pressure”.

But for the first time De Gucht said the EC was open to negotiations with China and that the “ball was in China’s court” to broker a deal.

“Our trade defence actions are about getting 'trade justice' for our companies and workers,” said De Gucht. “But, of course, if the injury can be removed on the basis of a Chinese undertaking instead, the commission will look at any proposal to be made after the imposition of provisional measures, if any.”

Following the meeting, Zhong said the Chinese government “would not sit on the sideline, but would rather take necessary steps to defend its national interest”, if duties were to be imposed.

“Such practices of trade protectionism are not acceptable to China,” he said.

“Given the size of the bilateral trade, it is only natural to see some trade frictions,” said Zhong. He also pointed out China and the EU were important trade partners to each other and bilateral trade and economic cooperation had maintained a generally positive momentum over the years.

Zhong reiterated that China was open to dialogue and consultation to defuse trade frictions. “Taking abrupt and unilateral actions does not help problem-solving, but will rather set the parties further apart and aggravate the tensions. The amplification and escalation of trade disputes would serve neither party well and would most certainly exert a serious negative impact on bilateral relations,” warned Zhong.

Germany, Britain and the Netherlands have already been vocal in their denouncement of any trade duties levied against Chinese manufacturers.

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese premier Li Keqiang met on 26 May for talks after which German economy minister Philipp Roesler told journalists that the leaders agreed protectionism was not in the interests of global trade.

Although De Gucht said he had no intention of damaging European business interests in China, he wanted to show Beijing that the commission was serious about preventing dumping and that China must play by international trade rules.

John Clancy, EU Trade spokesman added: “The commission will of course take note of the advisory positions by the member states. At this stage, any potential temporary measures are an emergency response to rebalance the market place for European companies facing life-threatening dumping and unfair competition from China's solar panel industry. Currently, 25,000 jobs are at risk in that sector in Europe. The commission is obliged to see the 'big picture' and take decisions based solely on the evidence.”

The final decision on possible provisional measures, which could average 47%, must be taken by 5 June according to the legal process. The full investigation continues and will conclude in early December 2013.

The UK’s Solar Trade Association’s PV specialist Ray Noble said: “We are very concerned that the solar industry is being used as a pawn in this process. Jobs are at stake. We have to find a solution.

“Clearly the European Commission is in a difficult position, as this decision could set a precedent on future anti-dumping cases. In my view, this can only be resolved by China and the Commission sitting around a table and coming up with a sensible compromise.”