Europe's PV industry rallies against import tariffs


On Wednesday more than 30 European PV companies will travel to Brussels to make their case against the already visible negative economic impact that the provisional punitive duties have had on the industry.

In a letter to EU trade minister Karel de Gucht, a copy of which has been obtained by pv magazine, Solar-Fabrik CEO Günter Weinberger calls on EU trade commissioner de Gucht to end the provisional import tariffs on Chinese cell imports and instead work towards the duty-free import of solar cells from all parts of the world into the EU in order to ensure the competitiveness of remaining European module manufacturers like Solar-Fabrik, Centrosolar, Heckert Solar, Isofoton and Solarwatt. Weinberger says.

As of January 2014, SolarWorld will likely be the only cell producer in Europe, writes Weinberger. In 2011 and 2012, Solland in the Netherlands, Photovoltech in Belgium) and Germany’s Conergy all discontinued their cell production. In addition, Q-CELLS transferred its cell production to Malaysia and Bosch announced the termination of its entire production by the end of 2013.

Weinberger adds that it is therefore absolutely clear and evident that all other European module producers besides SolarWorld must import cells. Given the globally installed cell capacity, there are only two regions which can support a cost-efficient and secure supply of cells to Europe: China and Taiwan.

Since the introduction of provisional import tariffs on Chinese PV imports of 11.8% at the beginning of June, Taiwanese cell providers have raised their prices accordingly, and sometimes even higher. This has increased the pressure on the already narrow margins of European module manufacturers. The situation will dramatically worsen if no agreement between the EU and China is reached and the provisional duties are raised on Aug. 6 to 47%, Weinberger argues.

He adds that it would create a monopoly situation for Taiwanese manufacturers importing to Europe, and it is likely that they would exploit it to their benefit. Module manufacturers like Solar-Fabrik would certainly be hit hard by such a scenario. The industry is therefore calling on de Gucht to distinguish between import duties for Chinese cells and modules and to abolish tariffs on cell imports in order to save jobs in Europe.

The Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy (AFASE), which consists of 750 companies, echoes the sentiments.

On Wednesday more than 30 European PV companies are travelling to Brussels to attend a hearing at the European Commission and detail how duties are already leading to order cancellations and job cuts.

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"We will prove that the provisional punitive duties imposed on June 5 by the Commission are already showing significant negative consequences," says Thorsten Preugschas, AFASE chairman and CEO of Soventix GmbH.

As a result of the duties, many companies are suffering order cancellations and are being forced to lay off employees – a sharp contrast to the Commission’s optimistic findings that the industry could create other markets or absorb the duties itself during the economic crisis.

"We are coming to Brussels to plead against continuing these harmful and detrimental duties, as they are only leading to market contraction and are costing many green jobs across Europe," Preugschas adds.

The EU ProSun association, which by its own admission is supported by 20 solar companies, is arguing the exact opposite. Chinese dumping imports had already destroyed at least 15,000 jobs in the European solar industry and led to the insolvency of 60 companies, says Milan Nitzschke.

China is now under pressure to stop dumping imports or to make an acceptable offer for minimum import prices. This would have to be significantly higher than already announced proposal of €0.50 per watt for module imports and must take into account the full cost and a reasonable profit margin, Nitzschke adds.

If the EU Commission accepts an inadequate compromise with China, EU ProSun will be forced to consider taking the case to the European Court, says Nitzschke.

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