By Andrew Lee in London
Tuesday, June 04 2013
Updated: Wednesday, June 05 2013
The European Commission (EC) will on Thursday impose provisional duties of 11.8%, effective until 6 August, on imports of solar panels, cells and wafers from China.
The provisional duties will then rise to the average 47.6% tariff rate that the EC claims “is the level required to remove the harm caused by the dumping to the European industry” for a further four months to December, when a decision will be made on any permanent measures.
A statement from Brussels says the EC “reiterates its readiness to pursue discussions with Chinese exporters and with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in order to find a solution” to the trade dispute.
A significant number of EU member states – most prominently Germany – have opposed the imposition of tariffs fearing a trade war, and pressed for a negotiated settlement.
But EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht today claimed the stance adopted by the EC was the right one: "This staggered response allows a smooth transition for our markets to adapt – and it is a one-time offer to the Chinese side, providing a very clear incentive to negotiate.
"It provides a clear window of opportunity for negotiations, but the ball is now in China’s court. It is clear that if China does not provide a solution by August, then the higher tariffs will apply," said De Gucht.
"In short, our action today is an emergency measure to give life-saving oxygen to a business sector in Europe that is suffering badly from this dumping. Our response is balanced, legal and justified within international trade rules and designed to prevent the situation turning fatal."
Duties from 6 August will range from 37.2% to 67.9%, said the EC. "Those Chinese companies which have co-operated in the investigation will face lower tariffs, whereas those which have not co-operated will face the higher tariffs," the commission added.
The imposition of anti-dumping duties – which has been trailed for weeks – has divided the European industry, with sectors such as installers and developers bitterly opposed to any measures that mean increasing the costs of cheap Chinese imports.
The EC investigation followed a complaint from EU ProSun, a group claiming to represent the majority of the European manufacturing sector, and led by Germany's SolarWorld, which argued that Chinese PV products are being unfairly dumped on the continent below cost.
The EC backed that complaint in its statement today, saying: "There is dumping by the exporting producers in China. Chinese solar panels are sold on the European market far below their normal market value."
But rival lobbying group the Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy (AFASE) immediately slammed the move. It said: "AFASE regrets the commission’s decision to ignore the considered positions of 18 out of 27 member states voting against duties, based on all the facts available to them.
"Even though the commission has set the preliminary duties lower than expected for the initial two months, AFASE stresses that any level of tariffs will seriously damage the European solar industry."
Germany's Green Party energy spokesman and MP Hans-Josef Fell said: "It is very worrying that the commission is ignoring the stated will of the larger part of the affected solar industry.
"Possibly, there are internal considerations that this serves Europe's nuclear and coal industries, which continue to fight strongly against the rapidly growing solar sector."
The EC is conducting a parallel investigation into unfair subsidies following a separate complaint by EU ProSun. A decision on any provisional duties in that case is due by 7 August.
Read Recharge's In Depth look at the issues surrounding the PV duties issue here
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