China would welcome talks with the European Union on an investigation into whether Europe is dumping wine, the Commerce Ministry said, and it dismissed any suggestion the inquiry was linked to a dispute over solar panels.

China began an inquiry in July into whether Europe was selling wine in China at unfairly low prices with the help of subsidies. That was widely considered to be retaliation for an EU move to impose punitive duties on Chinese solar panels.

Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said at a monthly news conference China’s investigation into EU wine was not in retaliation against any EU investigation such as the solar panel case.

“China has never linked this case to other trade friction cases targeting China and we also oppose any attempt to interpret the EU wine case as a retaliation against the solar panel case,” Shen said.

The Commerce Ministry was only responding to requests from domestic firms to launch the wine investigation, and that the case was now “in the normal process of investigation”, he said.

“China welcomes talks and negotiations between the two sides’ industries to seek a solution to resolve the dispute and we would like to provide convenience (for such talks),” Shen said.

“As far as I know, the industries of China and the EU have started initial contact with each other and we hope the two sides could produce a positive result through negotiations.”

The solar panel case was by far the largest trade dispute between Brussels and Beijing, but they reached an agreement to avert duties. EU officials said they had received reassurances the wine inquiry would also be dropped.

Then China caused confusion by sending a 45-page questionnaire in Chinese to France, Spain and the European Commission, which handles trade for the EU’s 28 countries, officials and diplomats said.

However Italy, one of Europe’s biggest wine producers, was not sent the questionnaire.

Brussels and Beijing opened negotiations on a so-called investment pact last month to improve access to each other’s markets.

China is the world’s biggest importer of Bordeaux, and consumption soared 110 percent in 2011.

EU wine exports to China excluding Hong Kong, which EU officials said was not covered by the investigation, reached 257 million litres in 2012 for a value of nearly $1 billion. More than half came from France.

China-based European companies in the wine business held a first meeting in November to tell Beijing that EU exports respected the norms of world trade and there was no dumping. They expect to meet again in February, officials said. (Reuters)