EC 'to propose' China PV duties

European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will next week recommend that the EU impose preliminary anti-dumping duties on Chinese PV wafers, cells and modules, according to a press report.

Unnamed sources close to De Gucht, who oversees commercial policy within the European Commission, tell Reuters that he will on 8 May in Brussels formally recommend that the EU move to protect European PV manufacturers.

The Reuters story claims De Gucht’s recommendation is likely to be heeded by EU diplomats, at least in the immediate term.

Some in the industry had speculated that Germany would ultimately be reluctant to support the tariffs given the broader implications for trade with China, despite the devastation of its PV cell and module sectors in recent years due to low-cost Chinese competition.

The Commission must issue its preliminary findings on its investigation into alleged dumping of Chinese PV kit into Europe by 6 June – nine months after it formally took up the investigation at the behest of the SolarWorld-led lobbying group EU ProSun.

Most in the industry did not expect any word from the Commission until early June.

The full investigation will take 15 months, with a final decision due by 6 December. If preliminary duties are imposed in June, they could be rolled back before December if the EU and China find a way to come to terms on the issue.

Separately, last November the Commission took up an investigation into alleged unfair subsidies offered to Chinese PV manufacturers, and last month it took up a case regarding solar glass from China. Those two investigations are each set to take 13 months.

The cases are seen as a watershed for the global PV industry with implications that stretch far beyond renewables, and have split the European solar industry between those who benefit from cheap Chinese modules and those who are harmed by them.

There are also potential implications for the bloc's climate and renewables targets. China imported some €21bn ($27.5bn) worth of solar products into the EU in 2011.

While the US imposed anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Chinese PV manufacturers last year, those only affected China-made cells – allowing producers the easy workaround of importing cells from Taiwan.

Analysts indicate that decision has had relatively impact on the US solar market.

Critically, in the EU the cases must pass the so-called “Union interest test”, with officials obliged to weigh the negative impact of duties against any potential benefits.

Earlier this week a number of trade organisations penned a public letter to De Gucht arguing that the cell and module sectors represent only a small fraction of the broader European solar industry.

Duties on Chinese modules would harm players further up and down the value chain – from polysilicon suppliers who face potential retaliation in China to downstream installers who benefit from cheaper modules.