Two key European institutions moved to uphold tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels and cells – but not wafers – within a day of each other this week. Solar developers have said they expect the rulings to add at least 7% to development prices.
The tariffs were first imposed in 2013 via European Commission ruling 1238/2013, as the final result of a fractious process that nearly triggered a trade war between the European Union and China. UK trade bodies estimate that these add GBP123,000 (US$151,000) to each 10 MW produced from solar at utility-scale plants.
The Germany-based Solar Alliance for Europe reported that Germany had added solar capacity at a rate of 3.3 GW during 2013, but only 1.9 GW in 2014 when the tariffs started to bite, and the figure has declined year on year since then.
In 2013 investigations, the EC ruled that Chinese firms were selling their products in the EU at dumping margins of between 53.8% and 111.5%. A dumping margin of 100% means the product’s price in the EU is half of its normal Chinese price. The EC’s tariffs were around 50 percentage points less than the dumping margin it had calculated, because of a separate calculation of how much it would cost to eliminate “injuries” from unfair trade practices.
On March 1, the EC decided at its weekly meeting in Brussels to extend tariffs by 18 months, shorter than the two-year extensions that had been the norm until now. The commission’s decision came a day after the Luxembourg-based European Courts of Justice (ECJ) threw out four cases seeking a suspension of 1238/2013 brought by four large consortia of Chinese solar panel manufacturers.
The shorter term seems to indicate the EU is slowly seeking an end to tariffs, which may come as a step-by-step loosening. In 2015, the EC began investigating if it should lift tariffs on cells while continuing to impose panel duties.
There has also been resistance because of spreading bureaucratic complications. One direct result of this was that Chinese firms began investing in facilities in Malaysia and Taiwan, triggering a further round of EC investigation to identify native Malaysian and Taiwanese exporters and Chinese-owned exporters operating in those nations.