Aside from some particularly barbed statements directed at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most notable aspect of European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht’s press conference on Monday was the announcement that EU-manufactured polysilicon will be free of duties in China, at least until April.
With U.S. and South Korean polysilicon hit with duties of up to 57% by the Chinese authorities since Wednesday, De Gucht confirmed the investigation into the dumping of EU polysilicon into China would continue until the end of February, with the Chinese authorities then due to apply any definitive duties deemed approriate from the end of April onwards.
"Within this period there will be a window for discussions between polysilicon producers and the Chinese authorities," said De Gucht, adding: "In the meantime, no measures will be taken."
Speaking in Brussels, the commissioner was more evasive when asked how the resolution of the module anti-dumping case would affect the parallel investigation by the EU into state subsidies by China for its solar industry.
Commissioner De Gucht would only repeat that the solution suggested for the anti-dumping case, which will be considered by the EC on Aug. 2, will be "translated" into any resolution of the state subsidy case. By strenuously stressing the anti-dumping case would not be applied as a blanket resolution to both disputes, the commissioner gave the impression that, provided there is no legal reason to treat both disputes separately which he said would become apparent on Aug. 6 that is exactly what will happen.
Criticism indicates a good compromise
The commissioner was dismissive of criticism of the deal of which no figures were confirmed from both pro and anti-tariff lobby groups, saying the pro-tariff EU ProSun would find it difficult to formulate a challenge to the deal at the European Court of Justice. He added, with respect to criticism from the Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy (AFASE) that the reported minimum module price of 0.56 per watt (US$0.74/W) was too high: "When everybody really diverges, in politics there’s a good chance you are in the right middle [sic]."
De Gucht revealed that around 70% of the Chinese companies importing modules to the EU had signed up to the agreement and that the remaining 30% would be subject to anti-dumping duties of 47.6% on their products. The reported volume cap on the amount of Chinese imports exempt from duties would be calculated as a percentage of the EU market rather than as a fixed 7 GW amount as has been implied by some media reports over the weekend, he added.
The commissioner denied that the volume cap represented a carving out of a percentage of the EU market to China, adding European manufacturers would have to compete with global, not only Chinese rivals.
In response to one question about the nature of the protection afforded to European producers, the commissioner said: "Any anti-dumping case is to remove an injury, not to assist the EU solar industry. If the EU panel industry wants to continue selling it will have to be competitive. That’s a free market."
For EU watchers away from the solar industry, the commissioner’s remarks about the split between the commission and member states led by German Chancellor Merkel which opposed tariffs, were revealing.
"It is true that there was negative advice from member states on provisional duties," said the commissioner, "but these are decided by the EC and that is what we have been doing. If everyone stays within their role then it will work and that’s what member states should do stay in their role and not negotiate in parallel talks with China."
In a further barb, Commissioner De Gucht announced: "There are 28 member states and they are not necessarily all of the same opinion."