The European Union is to impose duties on imports of Chinese solar panels from Thursday, but announced a dramatically reduced initial rate after pressure from some large member states in the hope of reaching a negotiated settlement with Beijing.
The EU says it has evidence that Chinese firms are selling their goods below cost - a practice known as dumping. But the initial duty of 11.8 percent announced on Tuesday by European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht was far below the average 47 percent that had been planned.
The shift reflects the desire to avoid a trade war, while also acknowledging opposition to duties from 18 of the EU's 27 member states, led by Germany and Britain.
(Read More: EU to Impose Solar Duties Despite Bloc's Division)
While the European Commission has the final say on trade issues, it does not want to be seen to be acting against the interests of member states.
"This is a one-time offer to the Chinese side, providing a very clear incentive to negotiate," De Gucht told a news conference. "It provides a clear window of opportunity for negotiations, but the ball is now in China's court."
One Chinese source close to the talks said: "If we face a loaded gun to our heads, it is not a fair negotiation, but at least it creates room for both sides to find a solution."
The case, one of several trade complaints that the EU has brought against China, is the largest trade investigation the European Commission has ever undertaken; imports from China in the sector amounted to 21 billion euros in 2011.
De Gucht said the 11.8 percent duty would apply until Aug. 6. If no settlement is reached, the average rate will then rise to 47.6 percent - in effect blocking China's market access. In December, that rate will be put in force for five years.
Senior EU and Chinese officials called each other last weekend to try to take the heat out of the dispute between two of the world's largest trading powers.
China has warned of repercussions. Premier Li Keqiang told European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday that the dispute touched on China's "major economic interests".