Little comfort in preliminary review of US duties on Chinese solar cells

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The week before Christmas, the United States International Trade Administration (ITA) quietly filed preliminary findings under its second administrative review of 2012 anti-dumping import duties on Chinese solar cells. The “dumping margin” which duties would be based on was found by ITA to be at 4.53-11.47%, substantially lower than duty rates set in the 2012 rulings or the first administrative review.

This week, ITA published preliminary findings for its second administrative review of anti-subsidy duties (countervailing duties or CVD) set in 2012 on Chinese PV cells, in conjunction with the anti-dumping duties. At 19.62%, the “subsidy rate” for Chinese PV makers was slightly higher than 2012 CVD rates, however not enough to offset potentially lower dumping duties.

This prospect of lower duties would ostensibly be seen as good news for Chinese PV makers. However, these are only preliminary rates, and GTM Research Solar Markets Senior Analyst, Jade Jones says that the previous review taught suppliers a lesson.

“In the preliminary finding, they were calling for lower levels, but the final finding was essentially the same as the 2012 rates,” Jones told pv magazine. “Some suppliers did quotes, prices that would be unfavorable for them at the end, because they assumed lower dumping rates.”

The final rulings in this second review are expected sometime this summer. In the interim, regardless of lower duties, Chinese PV makers have already set their strategies for the U.S. market, which includes setting up manufacturing in Southeast Asia and other regions where their products will not be subject to import duties when shipped to the United States.

“What we have seen in 2015 is an adjustment is Chinese supplier’s capacities, where they have the ability now to ship tariff-free cells,” explains Jones. “And as demand generally grows, that the amount of tariff-free supply coming to the U.S. may grow.”

However, this does not mean that Chinese PV suppliers will be immune to tariffs, given a limited offshore capacity. “The U.S. is one market, and there needs to be justification beyond just the U.S. market to invest and scale in these tariff-free cell capacities rapidly,” notes Jones.

Such “duty-free” cell and module capacity is also split between supplying the United States and Europe, which has implemented the Minimum Import Price.

Additionally, Jones says that the United States is not as attractive of an end-market as one might think, given the lower margins for sales in the United States compared to other markets. “Suppliers kept offering competitive rates,” says Jones. “We may see stable to even lower prices this year in the United States.”