Solarworld AG (SWV), Germany’s largest solar-panel maker, led a group of manufacturers in requesting the European Commission investigate whether Chinese competitors dumped products at below-market rates on regional markets.
The EU ProSun group filed the anti-dumping complaint in Brussels after a similar request in the U.S. resulted in duties on solar imports from China. The group has 25 members including companies from Italy, Spain and Germany’s Sovello GmbH, EU ProSun President Milan Nitzschke said today.
“A majority of the European solar industry backs the complaint,” Nitzschke said by e-mail. “Chinese companies are offering their products below manufacturing costs despite their own massive losses.”
The filing highlights tensions with China over aid for wind-power and solar companies, which have grabbed market share from European rivals that once dominated the industry. The increased competition has slashed profit margins, cutting solar- panel prices by half last year and tipping more than a dozen companies into bankruptcy.
Q-Cells SE (QCE) of Germany, once the biggest solar-cell maker, surrendered its lead to China’s Suntech Power Holdings Co. in the past four years and sought court protection from creditors in April. Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS) of Denmark is cutting a 10th of its workers as its market share slips away to China’s Sinovel Wind Group Co. and Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co.
The Asian nation has supported companies with credit lines from state-owned China Development Bank Corp., helping Suntech and peers Yingli Green Energy Holdings Co., Trina Solar Ltd. (TSL:US) and LDK Solar Co. ramp up production even as panel prices fell.
Solarworld’s complaint in the U.S. led President Barack Obama’s administration in March to impose anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar manufacturers. The Commerce Department in May ruled that they sold products below cost and introduced levies ranging from 31 percent to 250 percent.
Representatives from Chinese solar companies including Suntech, Yingli and Trina outlined their stance in Beijing today.
The anti-dumping case is “unreasonable,” “groundless” and motivated by Solarworld’s commercial interests, Yingli Chief Strategy Officer Wang Yiyu said. The European Union enjoyed a trade surplus by selling solar manufacturing equipment and raw materials to China in recent years, Wang said.
In a joint statement, the companies called on the EU to exercise caution when determining the start of an anti-dumping investigation. They also urged the Chinese government to protect their interests.
“Suntech rejects Solarworld’s allegations that it has received illegal subsidies,” Jerry Stokes, Suntech’s European unit president, said in a statement yesterday. “We hope the European Commission will recognize that any protectionist measures would harm the entire European solar industry and that a misguided trade war would undermine years of progress.”
Chinese companies provided about 68 percent of solar panels last year compared with 40 percent in 2009, the London-based researcher Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated. Companies in EU countries produced about 11.5 percent of panels in 2011 versus 19 percent in 2009 while the U.S.’s share has dropped to 9 percent from 23 percent in the same period.
German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said July 19 that the country would support the commission should it start an anti-dumping probe.
Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the European Commission, declined to say today in Brussels whether the EU agency had received the complaint. Regulators have 45 days after receiving a complaint to assess it and decide whether to open an investigation.
The commission will probably find reasons to hear the case, Jefferies Group Inc. analysts said in a note to investors on July 24.
While the case is harder to win in Europe because of EU rules related to World Trade Organization regulations, the implications of possible EU dumping tariffs are “much more serious” than the U.S. case because of “substantially” higher volumes sold in Europe, Jefferies said.
Jenny Chase, BNEF’s head solar analyst, said the U.S. case has resulted in higher capacity utilization for Taiwanese cell makers, with few signs that module prices are going up.
“Taiwanese, Korean and Southeast Asian manufacturers are the most likely beneficiaries of EU anti-dumping tariffs and might even have to increase capacity to supply the market,” she said today by e-mail.
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