Protectionist measures working as Chinese export destinations shift

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The burgeoning demand for PV in the Netherlands – combined with the removal of trade measures against Chinese products in the EU and protectionism in India – saw the northern European nation become the second largest recipient of Chinese solar modules in the first three months of this year.

The imposition of a safeguarding duty on Chinese and Malaysian solar cell and module imports to India last summer led to a 24.4% reduction in the scale of Chinese exports to India in Q1, compared with the same period last year.

Previously the biggest destination for modules being produced by a manufacturing base more than two times larger than domestic demand, India has been replaced as China’s biggest panel export market. Figures produced by the China Chamber of Commerce for the import and export of Machinery and Electronic Products (CCCME) indicated India fell to third place in the Q1 export ranking, overtaken by Vietnam and the Netherlands.

Vietnam, which is benefiting from a new solar policy, imported 16.8% of the Chinese panels shipped from January to March, enough to provide 2.6 GW of generation capacity. With Japan and Australia rounding out the top five Chinese export markets, the CCCME figures showed those five accounted for 52% of the 16.68 GW of module capacity shipped in the first quarter – around 8.8 GW.

Trade sanctions skew market

Despite predictions from analysts that falling prices and economies of scale would ensure Chinese products remained competitive in the face of trade measures, the penalties applied to Chinese panels had a marked effect in the first three months of the year. With the Netherlands export market booming and Indian sales retreating, Chinese panel shipments to the U.S. almost disappeared in the reporting period, with just 10 MW of capacity attracting buyers as the stakes were raised in President Trump’s escalating trade war with the world’s biggest solar manufacturer.

With a newly re-elected Narendra Modi at the helm in India, industry calls to apply more long lasting anti dumping duties on Chinese panel imports are becoming more strident.

However, with strong new import markets emerging in Mexico, Turkey, Ukraine and the UAE, China’s first-quarter panel exports were still worth around $4.4 billion as they posted a 77% rise in volume compared with the same period a year earlier. And despite the big beasts of solar already possessing an annual module production capacity of around 93 GW – and China expected to be only a 40 GW marketplace this year – Chinese manufacturers show little sign of reining in their ongoing desire to build more PV production lines to feed almost 190 export markets.

With market research company IHS Markit predicting a 123 GW global solar marketplace this year, the China Photovoltaic Industry Association says a redoubling of cost-cutting efforts in manufacturing and ever growing production capacity will see Chinese exports continue to rise.