„The EU is throwing a stone in a glass house.“

Herr Felbermayr, is it justified to impose tariffs on Chinese electric cars in the EU?

Johannes Pennekamp

Verantwortlicher Redakteur für Wirtschaftsberichterstattung.

Es gibt reichlich Evidenz dafür, dass der chinesische Staat die heimische Autoindustrie auf eine Art und Weise subventioniert, die nicht mit den Regeln der Welthandelsorganisation (WTO) konform ist. China subventioniert die Produktion der Autos direkt, zudem gibt es indirekte Subventionen über die Förderung von Batterien und Seltene Erden in verschiedenen Formen.

Werden Batteriefabriken nicht auch von der EU und der Bundesregierung subventioniert?

The difference lies in the way it is done and the magnitudes involved. It is difficult to provide specific numbers because it is not transparent and involves subsidizing entire ecosystems and supply chains. For example, China has provided large loans to African countries and has been attempting to monopolize rare earths for years and decades. This can also be seen as a form of subsidy. However, it is true that the EU is throwing stones in a glass house.


The EU claims exceptions from state aid rules with its funding programs, called IPCEIs. If the EU tariffs actually come into effect, China will definitely retaliate and accuse the EU of similar practices. This would be similar to the Airbus vs. Boeing dispute between the EU and America, where both sides argued to be in the right.

Gabriel Felbermayr

Gabriel Felbermayr : Bild: dpa

Kann die Europäische Union ohne weiteres Strafzölle gegen China plötzlich und unmittelbar einführen?

No, first the case must go through certain procedures at the EU level. Before implementation, the measure must be notified to the World Trade Organization. However, this becomes problematic because the WTO is not fully operational. The appellate body has been non-functional for a while due to American obstruction. The EU has created a substitute, and even the Chinese have joined it. It is clear that disputes would prolong for a long time, and during this period there would be tariffs and retaliatory tariffs.

Welches Szenario wäre in diesem Fall wahrscheinlich?

There is a risk of a spiral. China could take countermeasures that would not only affect the European automotive industry but also other sectors. This is explicitly allowed under WTO law.

Das erinnert an die Eskalationsspirale zwischen China und Amerika unter Trump, der unter anderem Waschmaschinen und Solarzellen mit Strafzöllen belegte.

On one hand, yes. On the other hand, it was clear with Trump that he was completely indifferent to WTO rules. This would be different with the EU now. The spiral would therefore possibly be more limited.

Kann die EU mehr verlieren als sie gewinnen kann?

China exports more to the EU than vice versa, making it more vulnerable to tariffs overall. However, an escalating trade dispute would be difficult for Germany to endure. Germany is an exporting country and also heavily produces in China. For example, the BMW electric car „iX3“ is exclusively manufactured there, so the company would have to bear the tariffs as well. In terms of its share of the gross domestic product, Germany would be more affected.

Germany would be hit by this at a time when its economy is already performing poorly.

This is typical: just when an industry is in distress, like the auto industry now due to China, states often resort to tariffs, as history clearly shows. In the steel industry, we can also see that whenever things go bad, new tariffs are imposed. This is supposedly intended as a form of economic policy, but it can backfire.