The US took a step on Friday toward potentially extending import duties on Chinese solar energy products to also cover panels made with parts from Taiwan in a case that could have a major impact on the fast-growing US solar market.
The US International Trade Commission (ITC) found there was reason to think the imports could harm the local solar industry, putting Washington on a path toward widening the reach of the steep duties it slapped on products from China in 2012 and potentially escalating a tit-for-tat trade spat.
The US arm of German solar manufacturer SolarWorld AG had complained that Chinese manufacturers are sidestepping the duties by shifting production of the cells used to make their panels to Taiwan and continuing to flood the US market with cheap products.
“Step by step, US solar producers are returning to a day when they no longer are forced to compete with the government of China,” said Mukesh Dulani, president of SolarWorld Industries America, which makes crystalline silicon solar panels at a factory in Hillsboro, Oregon.
SolarWorld said it had the support of other solar manufacturers operating in the US in pushing for a broadening of the duties.
However, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), which represents about 50 US solar companies that mainly focus on installation, said installers would suffer if there was another jump in the cost of modules. CASE said those prices had already gone up 10 percent since the complaint was filed on Dec. 31 last year.
Lawyer Richard Weiner, a partner at Sidley Austin who is representing the Chinese solar industry, said SolarWorld was trying to shut competition out of the US market, but did not have the capacity itself to supply all the goods needed.
Taiwanese solar manufacturers have never engaged in dumping practices in the US, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US said in a statement, adding that prices on Taiwan-made solar cells are 8 percent above the global average due to their “excellent quality.”
Taiwan Photovoltaic Industry Association (台灣太陽光電產業協會) chairman Sam Hong (洪傳獻) said he was not surprised by the ITC’s unfavorable ruling. However, local solar companies are now more concerned over Taiwan obtaining the right to represent itself in defending its position in the anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations.
Hong also serves as president of Neo Solar Power Corp (新日光), one of the nation’s biggest solar-cell manufacturers.
Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade said yesterday in a statement that it would provide the latest information about the probes to the association and would work with local solar firms in formatting countermeasures against possible dumping rulings.
The bureau also encouraged Taiwanese solar manufacturers to fully cooperate with the US’ investigations, as it would play a crucial role in the department’s decision.
“Taiwanese solar companies have to be very careful in dealing with the investigation by the US Department of Commerce in order to reduce the impact, as the department’s ruling will have an substantial impact on local firms’ business,” said Arthur Hsu (胥嘉政), a solar industry analyst with market researcher TrendForce Corp (集邦科技).
Last year, half of the 6.5 gigawatt in solar cells made in Taiwan were shipped to China and re-exported to the US, according to TrendForce’s tally.