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EU made to reconsider duties on Chinese ceramic tableware

BRUSSELS, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The European Commission is having to rethink its plan to impose duties on ceramic tableware and kitchenware from China after a majority of EU member states voted against their imposition this week.

The Commission has until Nov. 16 to determine whether to set provisional duties for the Chinese imports and ignore the vote.

However, it does need to follow the opinions of member states for definitive duties, which would need to be set for these products by May 15.

Ceramic tableware and kitchenware imports from China totalled about 800 million euros ($1.04 billion) in 2011, according to importers, making it among the more sizeable cases under consideration by the Commission.

China is the European Union's second-biggest trading partner after the United States, and the bloc is China's biggest trade partner.

However, relations have been tense, with EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht complaining China subsidises ``nearly everything''.

The Commission last month launched its largest trade defence case to date, into the alleged dumping of 21 billion euros' worth of solar panels and components by Chinese producers.

For tableware and kitchenware, the Commission had planned duties of between 17.6 and 31.2 percent for Chinese companies it deemed to have cooperated with its investigation and of 58.8 percent for those it deemed not to have helped.

However, 14 of the EU's 27 members voted against their imposition, according to sources familiar with the vote.

``This almost never happens,'' said one source.

The European Commission declined to comment.

While some members, such as from Scandinavia, tend to vote against duties on a matter of free-trade principle, some others this time said they were not convinced by the Commission's arguments and data.

It is not clear what the Commission will do. It could impose the duties as planned and seek to win over at least one member state, it might choose not to impose provisional duties, but seek their imposition at the definitive stage or could propose lower duties or duties for a shorter period.

In 2006, in a dumping case concerning shoes from China and Vietnam, the Commission settled for duties for two years, rather than the normal five, in the face of initial opposition from some member states.

However, industry experts say the current Commission is less eager to seek political compromises.

``It's more rule-based now, rather than an oriental bazaar approach,'' said one expert. ($1 = 0.7716 euros)

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Alison Williams)