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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union member states have cleared an 18-month extension of import tariffs on solar panels from China, a compromise position after initial opposition, sources said on Friday.
Anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties have been in place on Chinese solar panels and cells since 2013 and are currently under review as to whether they should be maintained.
The European Commission had initially proposed a two-year extension, but that was rejected by a majority of EU countries in a vote last month, prompting the Commission to revise its proposal.
A Commission source said the possibility of a shorter 12-month extension was also raised to the EU's 28 member states, adding that the Commission would come to a final conclusion in the coming days. The deadline for a decision is March 4.
The Commission has also referred to a gradual phase-out of such duties, although has yet to establish the details.
The European Union faces a delicate balancing act between the interests of EU manufacturers and those benefiting from cheap imports, while also being concerned about the response from Beijing, seen as a possible ally in fights against protectionism and climate change.
The EU and China came close to a trade war in 2013 over EU allegations of dumping by Chinese solar panel exporters.
EU ProSun, a group of manufacturers including Germany's SolarWorld (SWVKk.DE), said it broadly welcomed the extension of measures to protect industry under pressure from Chinese dumping, although questioned why the Commission had not stuck by its initial two-year extension.
"It seems a little bit to be a signal so as to make closer ties with China," said EU ProSun president Milan Nitzschke.
SolarPower Europe, which represents those in the solar industry opposed to duties, said it was clear the measures were unpopular and that a more sensible compromise would have been to limit the extension to 12 months with a clear signal then to end them.
The Commission is expected to discuss the issue at its weekly meeting on Wednesday.
Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop, editing by David Evans