Chinese exports to US falls to US$1.65 billion

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The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) has announced that imports of Chinese cells and modules into the US fell to their lowest level in November 2012.

CASM, led by manufacturer SolarWorld, lodged a complaint with the US Department of Commerce last year, which resulted in duties from 24-250% being levied against Chinese manufacturers.

The US Census Bureau’s US Imports of Merchandise database shows Chinese cell and panel imports totalled about US$1.65 billion, down from US$2.25 billion for the same period of 2011.

CASM claimed the decline was a reflection of “the market's growing recognition of the costs and risks associated with importing Chinese solar products in light of the recent imposition of anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties on them”.

Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America said: “Unlike Chinese counterparts, however, the strongest non-Chinese operators cannot depend on their government to prop them up as they endure the consequences of China's illegal trade practices.”

But Jigar Shah, President of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, told PV-Tech: “The fact that Chinese imports may have gone down has nothing to do with the tariffs and everything to do with the dynamics of the US solar market – as we successfully argued in front of the International Trade Commission. 

“Going forward, panels made from Taiwanese and Indian cells will be slightly more expensive, which is unfortunate for US installers, but it is the path we have chosen as a nation – penalising China instead of creating a viable industrial policy in the US like Canada and Germany have done. 

“I think the data shows that US manufacturing for solar hasn’t been strong since the 1990s and won’t be strong for the forseeable future until we establish a much larger local USA market of at least 7,000 MWs annually,” concluded Shah.

However, Tim Brightbill, Partner at law firm Wiley Rein, representing CASM in the trade case disagreed. Speaking to PV-Tech he said: ”One important thing to note is we have a good situation for American consumers. Chinese imports have decreased, but pricing has not increased. It is clear pricing has stabilised.” 

“There have been reports about Chinese demand but it is far too early to say China’s market is growing. The Chinese industry is still heavily export dependent.

“Their increase in capacity would swamp the global market,” concluded Brightbill.

Finlay Colville, Vice President of Solarbuzz was hesitant about attributing import figures wholly to the US Department of Commerce ruling. “Getting clarity on the full impact of the AD/CVD case is not yet known,” he said.

“And there are actually a few issues that are interconnected here. First, Chinese manufacturers can use Taiwanese cells in their modules to bypass the US tariffs, and this is routine to perform. Also, towards the end of 2012, the US market was simply less important to most Chinese manufacturers.

“A multi-gigawatt demand in China during Q4’12 offered far greater rewards than a few tens of megawatt shipments either way to the US market.

“And with China a 7GW end-market opportunity for Chinese module makers next year – with very limited competition – it is debatable how much the US market actually offers to Chinese module makers during 2013.

“A goal of the AD/CVD case was to restore profitability to module suppliers focusing on the US market. However, with the exception of First Solar and SunPower that are downstream focused now, it is questionable if the lack of Chinese competition will yield any return to profits for other module suppliers selling to the US end-market. End-market pricing is not increasing, and the cost structure of the remaining module suppliers is still a long way off break-even status.”

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