Asian rivals might undercut Chinese in the EU

EC Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht may have been at pains to stress last week that resolution of the EU-China anti-dumping case was separate from the ongoing anti-subsidy investigation into the same products, but solar analysts at IHS are unconvinced.

With the commission’s deadline for announcing provisional anti-subsidy duties on Chinese-made solar wafers, cells and modules set to expire on Thursday, IHS’ Stefan de Haan says he does not expect any nasty surprises for Chinese manufacturers.

"It was a political decision," he told pv magzine of the resolution of the anti dumping case which has seen the EU accept minimum price commitments and a cap on annual export volumes from China.

De Gucht told reporters the anti-subsidy case, brought after a complaint by the same European solar manufacturing lobby group EU Prosun that cried foul over dumping, was entirely separate and will not be brushed under the carpet but analyst de Haan added: "no-one has the appetite for trade disputes with China and we expect other cases will be served in a similar manner."

De Haan believes China’s giant tier 1 suppliers are the winners from the anti dumping deal – a belief reflected in a share price surge among such companies in the aftermath of the agreement being confirmed.

Ground mounts impossible in Germany

He said a minimum solar module import price of €0.60/W, in line with IHS’ predictions, would mean large scale ground mount projects prove unviable in Germany and tough propositions in other European markets such as the UK.

As a result, says de Haan, all manufacturers, including the dominant Chinese players, will lose large scale business in Europe but, he added: "Chinese producers will be able to focus on the higher value rooftop segment. At the minimum price levels agreed, Chinese products will still be able to compete at a level European manufacturers cannot live with."

The IHS analyst said bad news for European manufacturers is also likely to prove damaging for smaller Chinese producers because of the nature of the volume cap agreed.

De Haan says the division of the market volume limit for wafers, cells and modules between companies is likely to be overseen by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and, as such, is expected to be used to accomplish the Chinese government’s long stated aim of consolidating its solar manufacturing industry. Where the big fish like Yingli gain, smaller producers will flounder, says de Haan.

The wild card is likely to come from manufacturers outside the People’s Republic with de Haan predicting panel makers in Taiwan and Korea will soon be able to sell solar products to Europe at lower levels than the minimum prices agreed between the EU and their Chinese rivals.

If that happens, the reaction from China and the EU is likely to prove riveting viewing.