Little enthusiasm for EU probe into China solar panels
By Philip Ebels
Apart from those spearheading the complaint, people within the European solar sector have expressed little enthusiasm for an EU investigation into the possible dumping of solar panels from China which may result in the imposition of import duties.
The investigation, announced on Thursday (6 September), comes after German solar panel maker SolarWorld and a coalition of anonymous allies accused China of lending cheap money, allowing its domestic industry to cut prices abroad and driving European companies out of the market.
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“Chinese companies are selling solar products in Europe far below their cost of production, with a dumping margin of 60 to 80 percent,” Milan Nitzschke, spokesperson for the coalition, EU ProSun, said in a statement.
“This means that Chinese solar companies are making enormous losses, but are not bankrupt because they are bankrolled by the state,” he added.
The photovoltaic industry finds itself in the eye of a perfect storm, with demand and prices taking a dive as governments are cutting subsidies and technology advances.
Another factor is that China has been investing heavily. In no more than a couple of years, it almost tripled the global manufacturing capacity. Today, it produces some 65 percent of all solar panels in the world, according to the European Commission. It has in its hands some 70 to 80 percent of the EU market.
But apart from the coalition of solar panel makers, which claims to represent a majority of the EU manufacturing industry, and the European Commission, who said there is sufficient evidence to open investigations, analysts and others in the industry have been sceptical.
“Our sector employs about 300,000 people in Europe. Raw material suppliers, equipment manufacturers, project developers, logistic suppliers, construction companies, installers and maintenance providers would all suffer from a misguided attempt to protect a few manufacturers that are just a small part of the value chain”, Giulio Arletti, chief executive of Coenergia, an Italian distributor of photovoltaic modules, said in a statement.
In a sign of stark division, his and a number of other companies active in the solar sector - including the big Chinese manufacturers - have set up a counter-coalition, the Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy.
“Trade barriers would push up costs and damage, possibly beyond repair, the competitiveness of solar power”, said Thorsten Preugschas, chief executive of German solar development company Soventix, another member of the counter-coalition.
But also more independent analysts have voiced their concerns.
“We are not a friend of trade wars. In the end, it makes everything more expensive. I don’t think it was a wise thing to do [to lodge a complaint],” Hans-Christoph Neidlein, editor-in-chief of Germany-based pv magazine, told EUobserver.
Asked whether the complaint was justified, he said: “As far as i know, I would say no. There are state loans, true. But we [in Europe] also have massive subsidies for solar companies.”
Paolo Frankl, director of renewable energies at the International Energy Agency, said that he, too, is not in favour of an EU anti-dumping investigation.
“We are rather against these local contests. If there is a conflict, it should be settled at the World Trade Organisation. Everything else is a last resort for the losers [of global competition],” he told EUobserver.
“EU companies that invest can already be competitive with China,” he added.
The investigation, the largest in recent history targeting an estimated €21 billion industry, is expected to take a total of 15 months. In the meantime, the commission will after three months be able to impose provisional duties, awaiting final results.