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Solar Trade War With China Goes Global

Its mission statement doesn’t mention China, but there’s no doubt as to what brought together the 20 or so companies that comprise the new trade group EU ProSun: The flood of Chinese solar products into Europe that has pushed a growing number of companies to and over the financial brink.

Pulled together by the German company SolarWorld, whose Oregon-based unit has already taken on China in the United States, ProSun confirmed on Thursday that earlier this week it had brought a trade complaint, accusing the Chinese of dumping solar products in Europe, to the European Commission. The executive body of the European Union now has 45 days to decide whether to launch a full-scale investigation.

china solar trade dispute

image via Shutterstock

“Chinese companies have captured over 80 percent of the EU market for solar products from virtually zero only a few years ago,” SolarWorld Vice President Milan Nitzschke, front man for ProSun, said in a statement released by the group [PDF]. “EU manufacturers have the world’s best solar technologies but are beaten in their home market due to illegal dumping of Chinese solar products below their cost of production.”

Chinese companies denounced the move, as expected, and did so with a new level of urgency and anger.

“If the EU were to follow the precedent of the U.S. and launch an anti-dumping investigation on Chinese solar products, the Chinese solar industry would suffer a fatal blow,” Yingli Solar’s chief strategy officer, Wang Yiyu, said at a briefing held by leading Chinese manufacturers in Beijing on Thursday. “We call on the Chinese government to take all necessary and resolute measures to protect the legitimate interests of the Chinese solar industry.”

In March, U.S. trade authorities, in a preliminary ruling, hit the major Chinese companies with anti-subsidy duties of around 4 percent, then followed in May with antidumping duties of 31 percent. Deposits are already being collected on Chinese imports, pending a final ruling on the case by November, but despite all the angry rhetoric — with the Chinese and within a split U.S. industry – the impact so far appears to have been negligible and recent analysis suggests that might not change.

“Based on this analysis, the … tariff will not materially affect pricing in the U.S. market,” GTM researchers reported this week, citing the Chinese company’s ability to send raw materials to Taiwan to be manufactured, a process known as “tolling.” “Though tolling cells through Taiwan does impose a slight cost increase on manufacturers, it does not prohibit them from pricing modules well below their domestic competitors.”

Europe could be a different matter, however. It’s a much bigger solar market than the United States, perhaps 10 times as large, making end-runs more challenging. Also, according to the Financial Times, the European complaint – unlike the one in the U.S. – includes silicon wafers, from which the solar cells that make up solar modules are made.

SolarWorld factory, Freiberg, Germany. (image via SolarWorld)

But while there’s no doubting the situation is dire in Europe for solar manufacturers in the face of dramatically falling prices — Solar Millenium, Solon, Solarhybrid, Q-Cells, Photowatt, Centrotherm and Solarwatt have all filed for insolvency in the past several months, according to ProSun – ProSun hardly has the entirety of the solar industry on its side.

The Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy, made up of polysilicon suppliers, equipment manufacturers and project developers and installers, has formed to fight trade sanctions. And while ProSun claimed “more than 20 members,” it did not name those other members, saying it was “too risky” for some to go public, nor did it claim to represent a majority of the solar industry.


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