EC refutes claims of tainted data

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The European Commission has denied press reports that it was investigating a German information services company that provided it with industry data in preparing its case in the trade dispute with China.

Reuters reported on Monday that the Commission had launched an inquiry into the Bonn-based information services company Europressedienst following complaints by European solar installers and lobby group Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy (AFASE), which has opposed punitive import duties on Chinese products, that the information was inaccurate and misled the Commission.

Officials at Europressedienst declined to comment on the accusations.

According to the European Commission, EC officials visited the Europressedienst offices not as part of an investigation but rather as normal procedure.

John Clancy, EU trade spokesman, said the anti-dumping investigation on solar panels was on-going and would continue until December 2013. "In the context of the information gathering during an investigation, it is standard practice for the Commission to continue company visits, which also includes visits to the consultants that are part of the investigation."

Clancy added that the Commission informed Europressedienst when it signed a contract with the company for its services at the beginning of the anti-dumping investigation that such a standard check could be carried out.

"So to be clear: the Commission is not carrying out an ‘inquiry’ into Europressedienst; it simply carried out a verification visit, as it does with other companies and as it is normal practice in anti-dumping investigations," said Clancy.

AFASE and its affiliated companies claim Europressedienst’s information exaggerated EU capacity to manufacture its own modules and pointed out that the firm had previously worked for German panel giant SolarWorld as well as the pro-tariff lobby group EU Pro-Sun, headed by Milan Nitzschke, SolarWorld’s marketing and communications chief, Reuters reported.

Nitzschke confirmed to pv magazine that EU ProSun used Europressedienst data in its initial complaint to the EC last year, along with information from other organizations like IHS, Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs, but added that the Commission had apparently commissioned additional, more current market data from Europressedienst in preparing its case.

The EC imposed provisional anti-dumping duties on EU imports of solar panels from China on June 6, arguing that Chinese companies were dumping their modules at below costs in the EU. The European Commission and China settled the dispute on July 27, with China agreeing to limit imports and evade punitive duties. Both AFASE and EU Pro-Sun have taken issue with the deal hammered out by EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and Chinese Commerce Secretary Gao Hucheng.

Nitzschke has said that SolarWorld employed Europressedienst’s director to help on marketing and publication projects but added that he had not been paid to work on the anti-dumping case.

The Commission said Europressedienst’s information did not influence the outcome of the trade case, adding that checking information supplied by consultants was standard procedure.

"The European Commission contracted Europressedienst to supply macroeconomic data, which have been cross-checked by the Commission with other publicly available sources before the publication of the provisional Regulation on June 5. The results of the cross-checking did not raise any concerns as to the reliability of the data received as these were found to be in the same trends with other publicly available data," Clancy added.

The EU trade spokesman stressed that "the main investigation results and the main conclusions of the EU’s solar panel anti-dumping case are based on information collected and verified by the Commission during the investigation, not on data by Europressedienst."

Clancy said the Europressedienst data were used for macro indicators, but key indicators, such as industry sales prices, production costs and profits, "have been established on the basis of company specific data collected by the European Commission through questionnaires. These company specific figures have shown clear dumping, clear injury and clear undercutting leading to the unsustainable price level in the EU but also for the Chinese exporters. Hence, the case does not stand or fall with the figures provided by Europressedienst."