Chinese PV imports again in SolarWorld's crosshairs

SolarWorld has taken new legal action against PV imports from Malaysia and Taiwan, many of which it suspects of originating in China.

The move comes amidst growing demands from the European PV industry for free trade of solar products and end to the EU’s minimum price agreement regulating PV imports from China.

The German-U.S. PV manufacturer has officially asked the European Commission to launch an anti-circumvention investigation of imported solar products from Taiwan and Malaysia. SolarWorld Vice President Milan Nitzschke, who also serves as president of industry lobby group EU ProSun, said on Wednesday that an investigation could result in anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on all solar imports from Taiwan and Malaysia, where, he argues, exporters “cannot clearly demonstrate that the solar PV modules or cells in question were produced locally.”

Nitzschke claims that up to 30% of Chinese solar imports manage to circumvent EU import tariffs, although he cites no hard data to support that figure. SolarWorld’s latest campain comes on the heels of a Monday announcement by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) calling for a free solar trade market and an end to the EU’s minimum price policy — a move blasted by Nitzschke.

Customs officials in the Netherlands and Germany are already investigating possible import violations. In March, Dutch custom authorities launched an investigation against an importer suspected of having shipped Chinese-made solar panels via Malaysia and Taiwan and re-labeled prior to their arrival in Europe. If confirmed, the importer would have to pay a tariff of 65%. Custom authorities have estimated the potential damage at around €1.2 million. Other similar investigations are reportedly underway in Germany. EU ProSun hoping to persuade the European Commission to take action against what the organization argues is common practice.

Nearly all major Chinese producers have agreed to the EU minimum price and limited volume undertaking regulating PV product imports. While the agreement is set to expire on December 7, EU ProSun is planning to request an official review of the minimum price policy that would in effect extend the undertaking for the duration of the evaluation – possibly up to a year. In the meantime, EU ProSun is also requesting that the European Commission modify the way it adjusts the minimum price for PV modules and cells.

On Monday, EPIA took a clear stance for the first time in the trade dispute, calling for an end to minimum prices after the undertaking expire in December and instead for an adoption of free trade for solar products.

“EPIA is a strong supporter of free and fair trade and we would like to see trade relations between Europe and China, on solar modules and cells, return to normal undistorted, fair trade as soon as possible, when the duties and respective price undertaking expire in 2015,” EPIA President Oliver Schäfer told a press conference at the SNEC exhibition in Shanghai.