Yesterday, September 6, the European Commission announced it had launched an investigation into photovoltaic exports from China into the EU, after a SolarWorld-led consortium, under the name EU ProSun submitted a trade complaint calling for tariffs to be imposed on Chinese manufacturers.
The news followed a similar action in the U.S., again led by SolarWorld, which has already seen preliminary tariffs imposed. Both of these investigations have prompted China to retaliate: last week China concluded that U.S. solar subsidies violate WTO rules; and China’s polysilicon producers have called for a trade investigation into imports of polysilicon into China.
To avoid a "full on trade war … that could kill the crucial green energy revolution" Avaaz, a global community whose aim is to work on "any issue of public concern", is calling for people to sign its "save solar" petition. If 500,000 signatures are collected, it says it will make a formal submission to the U.S. International Trade Commission and EU trade Commissioner calling for talks not tariffs. Since its launch yesterday, 117,352 people have signed.
In an email, the organization writes, "Climate change is accelerating, but theres a massive ray of hope: clean energy is booming, producing nearly 20% of the world’s electricity! Incredibly, the US and EU are threatening to stifle this breakthrough — but together we can stop them."
It goes on to say, "While China, the EU, and the US all funnel billions into Big Coal and Oil to destroy our planet, China is also providing huge loans and subsidies to the solar industry. And that’s exactly what other governments have failed to do.
"Following the bankruptcy of a handful of US and EU solar manufacturers, some lobbyists are pushing politicians to blame China, instead of their own insufficient and inappropriate subsidies. Some claim that domestic jobs are threatened by low cost Chinese panels, but the truth is the opposite — experts predict that tariffs could cost 60,000 jobs in the US alone. The vast majority of jobs in the solar sector outside of China are in installing and servicing panels, not manufacturing them, so cheaper panels now means more work, and more jobs. And less climate change."
Before the European Commission made its decision to launch the investigation, a number of industry parties spoke out against the imposition of tariffs in the EU, including the International Photovoltaic Equipment Association (IPVEA) and Germany-based VDMA Photovoltaic Equipment.
It was also reported last week that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel had met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, with the aim of reaching a negotiated settlement and "not always resort to the same weapons for legal disputes".
Predictably, the main victims of tariffs Suntech, Yingli, Trina and JinkoSolar have also spoken out against the investigation, claiming that their EU photovoltaic transactions have been made in accordance with international fair trade practices and that tariffs are not of benefit to anyone on the industry.
Equally predictably, EU ProSun, the members of which are still unknown aside from SolarWorld, has welcomed the investigation, stating, "The European Commission took a big step to save Europe’s green tech sector and broader manufacturing base. Chinese companies are selling solar products in Europe far below their cost of production, with a dumping margin of 60 % to 80%."