Groups representing 1.3 million jobs call for end to EU-China solar trade war

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Source: Flickr/Glyn Lowe.

Groups representing a total of 1.3 million jobs in 20 different EU countries have called for the end of trade duties on Chinese solar products.

The letter was co-ordinated by the solar industry trade group SolarPower Europe.

The EU Commission is currently undertaking an expiry review and must decide before March 2017 whether to scrap or extend duties and the minimum import price (MIP) arrangement.

It is understood that having completed a number of verification visits to manufacturers, it is close to compiling its findings into recommendations.

The letter, which is signed by renewable energy trade groups, solar groups and the European Association of Electrical Contractors (AIE), also claims that manufacturing in Europe has been impacted by the duties.

The complaint against Chinese solar firms was originally brought by EU ProSun, a SolarWorld backed initiative representing European solar manufacturers.

“The cost of modules is dropping everywhere else in the world as economies of scale come to fruition. Unfortunately, in Europe, due to the MIP and trade measures, the price of modules is increasing against the documented trend for costs to come down as scale increases,” the letter states.

“This trend has unforeseen consequences on the non-module assembly upstream manufacturing jobs in the European solar value chain, which account for 80% of the upstream jobs,” the letter continues.

James Watson, CEO, SolarPower Europe said it was important to show the Commission the wider impact of the measures.

“We want to express to them how united the European solar industry is against these measures,” Watson told PV Tech. “98% of the European solar industry supports our position.”

At the heart of the debate is the representation of SolarPower Europe and EU ProSun. Both claim to represent the best interests of the wider solar industry and are looking for the Commission to make a call based on the best interests of those members.

“The Commission has to assess whether there is dumping happening and if that is leading to injury but the overall consideration in relation to that has to be what is the Union interest and in that respect they are able to make a decision based on what is in the interest of Europe and not what is in the interests of one or two companies. They can make a decision to benefit the rest of the sector. Their hands are not tied,” explains Watson.

The ‘Union interest’ argument is not purely based on jobs but also on the EU’s wider climate and energy policy objectives.

As the trade measures add to the cost of solar, they are contributing to slowing down its deployment. This is contrary to the desire of the EU to effectively combat climate change and reduces the likelihood that targets, such as the goal of having 27% of energy from renewables by 2030, will be met. The recent launch of the Energy Union initiative aims to put the consumer at the heart of European energy policy, yet the duties add around 1,000 Euros to the installation of household solar, according to the STA’s recent study.

Milan Nitzschke, president of EU ProSun and vice president of SolarWorld pointed out that 20 European cell and module manufacturers had supported the launch of an expiry review.

“I don’t know which companies SPE pretends to represent here,” he said adding that a survey of 2,000 installers across Europe that yielded more than 500 responses with 23.7% of those respondents against continuing with trade measures. Nitzschke said installers, outwith the major EPCs, back duties.

“Just because these associations exist and claim they are representing everybody doesn’t mean they do. Huge importers yes, installers, no. That’s rubbish,” added Nitzschke.

SPE re-iterated that the AIE represents 120,000 electrical installers and that one-third of its own membership are European manufacturers.

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