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EU signs off on China solar deal, no state votes against

Employees work at the solar cells production line of the Blue Carbon Technology Inc. in Rizhao, Shandong province December 3, 2010. REUTERS/
Employees work at the solar cells production line of the Blue Carbon Technology Inc. in Rizhao, Shandong province December 3, 2010. REUTERS/

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union officials endorsed a deal on Friday to settle a dispute with China over solar panels, the biggest trade row to date between the two powers, after winning almost unanimous backing from member states.

The agreement will be officially published on Saturday and takes effect on August 6. Chinese firms who agree to its terms will avoid duties that the 28-nation EU had planned to impose.

In a statement, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said it had received almost unanimous support but declined to give details on any possible abstentions.

"We can't go into details. A huge majority of member states voted in favor. No member state voted against," a Commission spokesman said.

The EU trade chief and his Chinese counterpart agreed late last month to set a minimum price for panels from China near spot market prices.

European solar panel makers have accused China of benefiting from huge state subsidies, allowing them to dump about 21 billion euros ($27.79 billion) worth of below-cost panels in Europe last year.

The EU had planned to impose hefty tariffs from August 6 but, wary of offending China's leaders and losing business in the world's No. 2 economy, a majority of governments, led by Germany, opposed the plan, allowing for the compromise deal.

Europe is China's most important trading partner, while for the EU, China is second only to the United States. Chinese exports of goods to the bloc totaled 290 billion euros last year, with 144 billion going the other way.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis, editing by Gareth Jones)

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