China's leadership transition is complicating talks to resolve a multi-billion-dollar dispute with the European Union over solar panels, pushing both sides closer to placing punitive tariffs on each others' exports and risking a trade war.
The newly appointed chief of China's Communist Party Xi Jinping is set to take over the presidency at a national congress in March. But the full line-up of government officials is not yet in place and China's current commerce minister is likely to step down after what some have said was a political snub at the party's congress in November.
EU leaders want to avoid following the United States' decision last year to impose duties on Chinese solar power products, aware that Europe needs China to help it emerge from three years of economic crisis.
But EU officials and diplomats say they have made little progress, accusing the Chinese of "stonewalling", and are unable to get beyond the outgoing commerce minister, Chen Deming. They complain of a limbo in the ministry that will not end until after the March congress.