Solar Trade Wars Continue To Escalate

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[author: Richard Lutz]

On September 18, 2012 the Government of India initiated an antidumping case on solar cells (wafer or thin film) originating from the United States, China, Taiwan, and Malaysia. Separately, on September 6, 2012, the European Commission initiated an antidumping duty investigation on imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules and key components (i.e., cells and wafers) originating in the People’s Republic of China. These new trade cases follow actions taken by the United States and China.

Earlier this year, the United States imposed preliminary countervailing and antidumping duties on crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules from China. Also, in July of this year, China began its own antidumping and countervailing duty investigations on imported solar grade polysilicon, which is a key component of solar panel construction.

The EU case was filed on behalf of the Germany-based SolarWorld and other anonymous members of EU Prosun group of companies. The group includes over 20 companies representing more than 25 percent of the total European Union production of crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules and key components.

Various sources report that China’s exports of solar products to the EU range from $20-27 billion per year. Likely targets in the European case include Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd.; Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd.; LDK Solar Co., Ltd.; and Trina Solar Ltd., which are often referred to as tier-1 Chinese solar panel manufacturers because of their size within the industry. If the EU makes an affirmative finding of dumping, provisional duties would be applied no later than July 6, 2013.

Ultimately, the EU case against Chinese producers could prove to have a far greater impact on the Chinese solar module producers than the U.S. proceeding. China’s exports of cells and modules to the United States were estimated at $2.4 billion during 2011, meaning the EU case would potentially cover over five times the value of U.S. sales. In addition, by altering the country of origin of the solar cell component of the solar module, the U.S. Government has provided an opportunity for Chinese producers to continue to sell their solar modules in the United States without being subject to the provisional antidumping and countervailing duties. In contrast, the European Commission could adopt a far more stringent definition of the solar products covered by the scope of their investigation.

Other potential solar-related cases are rumored. The EU may be considering a countervailing duty investigation on the same solar products covered by the antidumping investigation, and China is rumored to be considering retaliation cases against the European Union, targeting European exports of polysilicon and wine.