Bloomberg News

SolarWorld Studies Seeking China Antidumping Case in Europe

October 20, 2011

(Updates with analyst comment in fifth paragraph.)

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- SolarWorld AG, whose U.S. unit asked the Obama administration to impose antidumping duties on imported Chinese solar equipment, is probing whether to start a related action in Europe, a company spokesman said.

“We’re checking all options for similar proceedings in Europe,” Milan Nitzschke, a spokesman for the Bonn-based solar- panel maker, said today by telephone, declining to elaborate.

SolarWorld Industries America Inc., the Hillsboro, Oregon- based division of Germany’s largest photovoltaic panel maker, yesterday asked the U.S. government to slap duties on more than $1 billion of Chinese imports for allegedly undercutting U.S. manufacturers unfairly using state aid.

The dumping case, which follows a plunge in prices for solar cells and panels, is one of the largest targeting China, with political implications as both nations race to develop clean-energy technologies.

“The solar sector is under immense competitive pressure,” Henning Wicht, a solar analyst at researcher IHS Isuppli, said in a telephone interview from Munich. “Margins are dropping, and both Western and Chinese companies desperately need money.”

Three U.S. solar companies have failed in the past months. SolarWorld, whose shares have lost 58 percent this year, and its German peers including Q-Cells SE and Conergy AG have been struggling to deal with weakening demand in Europe, where Germany, France and Italy lowered subsidies to cap booming installations.

Suntech, LDK

They’re also under pressure from Chinese manufacturers such as Suntech Power Holdings Co. and LDK Solar Co., which expanded production capacity just as demand slowed, causing cell and module prices to plummet.

Wicht said he’s “skeptical” that an antidumping case would succeed in Europe, citing EU subsidies that helped fund manufacturing plants in Germany and the continent’s dependency on exports to China.

“The question will be, ‘have the Chinese received legal or illegal doping?’ The latter will be difficult to prove,” he said.

Suntech, of Jiangsu, China, the world’s largest panel maker, said in a statement that a “solar trade war” would prevent clean energy sources from challenging traditional forms of generation and “deal a major blow to the global economy.”

Solarworld said in its complaint that China uses cash grants, discounts on raw materials, preferential loans, tax incentives and currency manipulation among tactics to boost exports of solar products. It wants “retroactive” duties slapped on Chinese cells and modules, according to a website release by Wiley Rein LLP, the law firm representing Solarworld.

“It’s not about a free market or good products anymore, it’s about who gets the most political protection,” Frank Asbeck, the company’s founder and CEO, said last month in an interview after the company announced it would shutter a California plant. “That’s not even industrial politics anymore. That’s war.”

--With assistance from Mark Drajem and Eric Martin in Washington. Editors: Todd White

--Editors: Todd White, Alex Devine

--Editors: Todd White

To contact the reporter on this story: Stefan Nicola in Berlin at snicola2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net.


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