Earlier this week, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced Brussels will investigate Chinese vehicles amid concerns they are "distorting" the EU market, which could potentially lead to higher tariffs on imports from the country, but officials are concerned there could be further consequences.
EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters: “We have to address this issue seriously.
“I think there’s no specific reason for retaliation [from Beijing], but retaliation is always possible.”
The bloc's trade commissioner, Valdis Dombrovski, is set to travel for previously-arranged talks in Beijing next week and said the probe would be "fact based" and it was important to "engage" with China.
He said: “We are just at the start of a fact-based investigation when we will consult extensively, including with Chinese authorities and industry. We will now follow this well-established process through, one step at a time.
“We welcome global competition because it makes our companies stronger. But competition must be fair. This is why engaging with China on this issue is essential, and I look forward to meeting my Chinese counterparts next week in Beijing."
But China's commerce ministry have slammed the investigation, branding it a "naked protectionist act that will seriously disrupt and distort the global automotive industry and supply chain . . . and will have a negative impact on China-EU economic and trade relations”.
They added in a statement: “China will pay close attention to the EU’s protectionist tendencies and follow-up actions, and firmly safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies."