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EU probes Chinese-owned solar panel firms over subsidies



More than 97 percent of the solar panels in Europe are imported, mainly from China
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The European Union on Wednesday announced investigations targeting two Chinese-owned solar panel manufacturers suspected of receiving subsidies as trade tensions heat up between Brussels and Beijing.

Brussels has in the past year taken stronger action to defend European industry against growing threats from China and the United States — but the EU also faces a dilemma. 

The 27-nation bloc wants to build up its renewable energy as it races to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but at the same time move away from excessively relying on cheaper Chinese wind and solar technology.

Chinese state subsidies are already in the EU’s crosshairs. In September last year, Brussels started a probe into Chinese electric car subsidies that could lead to punitive tariffs on vehicles it believes are unfairly sold at a lower price.

Beijing at the time warned it would harm trade relations, and raised fears the EU was risking a trade war.

Wednesday’s probes were launched under new rules that came into force in July last year and seek to prevent foreign subsidies from undermining fair competition in the EU.

Under investigation are two consortiums, one of which includes the Enevo group in Romania and a German subsidiary of Chinese parent company Longi Green Energy Technology.

Longi is the world’s biggest solar panel manufacturer.

The second consortium is made up of two subsidiaries both fully owned and controlled by Chinese state-owned firm, Shanghai Electric group.

“The (European) Commission will assess whether the economic operators concerned did benefit from an unfair advantage to win public contracts in the EU,” the bloc’s powerful antitrust regulator said.

The China Chamber of Commerce to the EU accused the bloc of abusing its new powers.

“We express our serious dissatisfaction with the abuse of the new tool by the relevant EU authorities and the use of the Foreign Subsidies Regulation as a new tool of economic coercion,” it said in a statement.

– ‘Preserve Europe’s economic security’ –

Under the EU’s new rules, firms must tell the commission when their public procurement tenders in the EU are worth more than 250 million euros ($270 million) and when the company has been granted at least four million euros in foreign financial contributions in the three previous years.

“The commission considered it justified to open an in-depth investigation for two bidders, since there are sufficient indications that both have been granted foreign subsidies that distort the internal market,” said a statement.

The two consortiums had applied to design, construct and operate a photovoltaic park in Romania with an installed capacity of 110 megawatts, partly financed by European funds.

“The two new in-depth investigations… aim to preserve Europe’s economic security and competitiveness by ensuring that companies in our single market are truly competitive and play fair,” the EU’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said.

Europe heavily relies on foreign solar panels. More than 97 percent of the panels in Europe are imported, mainly from China, the EU’s financial services commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, said in February.

She pointed to a global oversupply and a surge of imports in the EU since 2023.

“Solar panel prices have plummeted by over 40 percent. These falling prices are an opportunity for citizens and solar panel installers as it supports internal demand, and it is clearly a challenge to EU solar panel producers,” she said.

– Past battles –

It is not the first time the EU has targeted China under its Foreign Subsidies Regulation.

In February, the commission began a probe into a subsidiary of Chinese rail giant CRRC. That investigation was closed after the CRRC subsidiary withdrew this month from a tender in Bulgaria to supply electric trains.

Battles with China over solar panels are not new for Brussels either.

In 2013, the EU imposed anti-dumping duties after European manufacturers said they were being forced out of business by underpriced Chinese panel imports.

Those restrictions were scrapped five years later.

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Meta ‘supreme court’ takes on cases of deepfake porn




Meta's independent oversight board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant's deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes
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Meta’s oversight board said Tuesday it is scrutinizing the social media titan’s deepfake porn policies, through the lens of two cases.

The move by what is referred to as a Meta “supreme court” for content moderation disputes comes just months after the widespread sharing of lewd AI-generated images of megastar Taylor Swift on X, formerly Twitter.

The Meta board picked its two cases, regarding images shared on Instagram and Facebook, to “assess whether Meta’s policies and its enforcement practices are effective at addressing explicit AI-generated imagery,” it said in the release.

The board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant’s deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes.

The first case taken up by the Meta Oversight Board involves an AI-generated image of a nude woman posted on Instagram.

The woman pictured resembled a public figure in India, sparking complaints from users in that country.

Meta left the image up, later saying it did so in error, the board said.

The second case involves a picture posted to a Facebook group devoted to AI creations.

That image depicted a nude woman resembling “an American public figure” with a man groping one of her breasts, the board said in a release.

The board did not name the woman, who it said was identified in a caption on the synthetic image at issue.

Meta removed the image for violating its harassment policy, and the user who posted the content appealed the decision, according to the board.

People were invited to submit comment, particularly on the gravity of harms posed by deepfake pornography and the harm it does to women who are public figures.

Deepfake porn images of celebrities are not new, but activists and regulators are worried that easy-to-use tools employing generative AI will create an uncontrollable flood of toxic or harmful content.

The targeting of Swift, one of the world’s top-streamed artists whose latest concert tour propelled her to the top of American fame, shined a spotlight on the phenomenon, with her legions of fans outraged at the development.

“It is alarming,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about the images at the time.

“Sadly we know that lack of enforcement (by the tech platforms) disproportionately impacts women and they also impact girls who are the overwhelming targets of online harassment,” Jean-Pierre added.

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Samsung returns to top of the smartphone market: industry tracker




Smartphone market tracker International Data Corporation expects Samsung and Apple will continue to dominate when it comes to high-end smartphones but that pressure will increase from Chinese rivals making more budget priced handsets
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Samsung regained its position as the top smartphone seller, wresting back the lead from Apple as Chinese rivals close the gap on both market leaders, industry tracker International Data Corporation (IDC) reported Monday.

South Korea-based Samsung overtook Apple as worldwide smartphone shipments grew nearly 8 percent in the first quarter of this year to 289.4 million, IDC said, citing its preliminary data.

It was the third consecutive quarter of growth in the global smartphone market, signalling that a recovery from a slump in the sector is underway, according to IDC.

IDC Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers team vice president Ryan Reith expected top smartphone companies to gain share and small brands to struggle for position as recovery progresses.

Samsung shipped 60.1 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, claiming nearly 21 percent of the market, according to IDC figures.

Apple shipped 50.1 million iPhones, garnering just over 17 percent of the market in the same period, IDC reported.

Apple smartphone shipments were down 9.6 percent in a quarter-over-quarter comparison, while Samsung shipments slipped less than one percent, according to the market tracker.

Meanwhile, China-based Xiaomi saw shipments grow about 33 percent to 40.8 million and Transsion about 85 percent to 28.5 million, taking third and fourth positions in the overall smartphone market, IDC reported.

“While Apple managed to capture the top spot at the end of 2023, Samsung successfully reasserted itself as the leading smartphone provider in the first quarter,” Reith said.

IDC expects Samsung and Apple to maintain their hold on the high end of the smartphone market while Chinese competitors seek to expand sales, according to Reith.

Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team, said: “There is a shift in power among the Top 5 companies, which will likely continue as market players adjust their strategies in a post-recovery world.

“Xiaomi is coming back strong from the large declines experienced over the past two years and Transsion is becoming a stable presence in the Top 5 with aggressive growth in international markets.”

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Hong Kong conditionally approves first bitcoin and ether ETFs




Hong Kong's securities regulator granted conditional approval for city's first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange traded funds
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Hong Kong’s securities regulator on Monday granted conditional approval to start the city’s first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange-traded funds (ETFs), firms involved said, positioning it as a leader in Asia for the use of cryptocurrencies as investment tools.

ChinaAMC (HK), the city’s unit of China Asset Management, said in a statement it had received regulatory approval from Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (SFC) for the provision of virtual asset management services.

The company is “actively deploying resources in the development of spot Bitcoin ETF and spot Ethereum ETF”, it said. 

This will be done in partnership with BOCI-Prudential Trustee Limited, a joint venture of the fund management arm of Bank of China (HK) and the British multinational insurance firm.

Two other fund managers — the Hong Kong units of Harvest Fund Management and Bosera Asset Management — also said they had received conditional approvals from the SFC, Bloomberg reported.

The SFC declined to comment on individual applications.

OSL Digital Securities will provide custody services to China AMC and Harvest to ensure trading safety, the licensed digital assets platform announced Monday. 

“This collaboration marks a critical advancement in the financial landscape of the region, heralding a new chapter in digital asset investments,” OSL said in a statement. 

Hong Kong has been trying to edge ahead as a regional digital asset hub as its international financial centre status has been dented by political turmoil in recent years and China’s economic downturn.

The latest move came three months after the United States gave the green light to ETFs pegged to bitcoin’s spot price, making it easier for mainstream investors to add the unit to their portfolio.

Hong Kong is also widely considered an experimental field for including cryptocurrencies as mainstream investment tools — which are banned in mainland China.

“The financial hub is looking to establish itself as a competitor in the space competing with Dubai and Singapore as regulators open up crypto markets to institutional demand,” said James Harte, an analyst from Tickmill. 

He added that Bitcoin futures were down “around 7 percent at the lows of the day before sentiment reversed on” Hong Kong’s news. 

Last December, the city’s SFC said it was ready to allow retail investors to buy funds that are 100 percent invested in some of the digital assets, triggering the first wave of applications from fund managers. 

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