German PV manufacturer SolarWorld has withdrawn its membership from industry body SolarPower Europe over the latter’s change of stance on the ongoing EU-China trade dispute.

SolarWorld, which has been the key activist in the trade case that in 2013 led to the imposition of punitive duties on Chinese PV imports into Europe, confirmed its withdrawal this morning at the Intersolar Europe show currently running in Munich.

SolarWorld’s vice president Milan Nitzschke said the move was prompted by the recent decision by SolarPower Europe, formerly known as the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), to publicly oppose import duties on Chinese manufacturers.

EPIA had remained neutral in the earlier phases of the trade dispute but changed its stance on the eve of the SNEC trade show in China in April as part of a reinvigoration of the organisation that resulted late last month in its new name and brand.

Nitzschke questioned how a body claiming to represent the European PV industry could support the removal of measures to prevent the dumping practices that he said had been so destructive to EU manufacturers.

“With the decision to make a statement that the anti-dumping measures have to expire as soon as possible, this is in my opinion not in the European interest; this is in the interest of people who are busy with trade with China – so importers who want the cheapest modules, exporters who want to ship their materials or components to China and get access to the market, but nobody else,” Nitzschke said.

He added that because SolarWorld still shared many of the aims of SolarPower Europe in fostering a healthy European solar industry he had hoped that the company could remain part of the association despite the differences of opinion on the trade issue.

But he said: “Talking with a lot of people in SPE, it’s absolutely clear that the issue of going against the AD tariffs and MIP [minimum import price] is right now a bigger one for SPE than any other issue.

“There’s no way for SolarWorld to stay with an association like that. I’m very sad about it, I’ve been a member of the board there, representatives of SolarWorld have been board members for years. So we contributed a lot to that association, but now we have to understand it’s lost to the Chinese.”

Nitzschke suggested EU ProSun, the body founded by SolarWorld to put pressure on the EU to act against alleged dumping by China, could function as an alternative representative body for the European PV industry. He said the body, which has the support of 30 European manufacturers, was planning to increase its range of activities beyond the trade issue to encompass other issues of concern to European PV players, such as technological innovation, promotion of self-consumption and consistent European industrial policy.

"I believe we are supporting the industry as a whole, every part of the value chain, but what we we cannot follow is the ones who say our only strategy is to get the lowest prices and maybe even lowest quality, or even prices below cost of production," Nitzschke said.

Speaking to PV Tech, James Watson, CEO of SolarPower Europe, said of SolarWorld's withdrawal: “I am naturally disappointed that SolarWorld has made this decision. We have worked together with them on many different issues in an open and transparent way. We represent the whole European value chain from manufacturing to installations and power sales; we are the natural home for all European solar sector actors with a growing membership week on week.”

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