The European solar industry is split over whether the European Commission should impose trade duties on Chinese module manufacturers.

According to a new survey of 532 European installers, 65% are in favour duties while 18% are against them.

But a strongly worded letter sent yesterday to European trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, carrying 1,024 signatories from across the EU solar industry, said any duties against Chinese manufacturers would have potentially severe consequences.

The poll by Germany-based Europressedienst contacted 2,303 PV installers of which only 532 participated in the telephone survey. Residents of all 27 EU member states, most of whom were from Germany, Italy and France, were contacted, although the exact number of participants from each EU country has not yet been disclosed.

Europressedienst said that the number of companies questioned is “proportional to the capacity of newly installed PV systems in 2012”. Last year, overall PV capacity in Europe totalled 16.5GWp.

Installers in Belgium accounted for 83.3% of those surveyed in favour of imposing duties, Germany for 64.4% and the UK for 42.9% as reported by PV-Tech’s sister site Solar Power Portal.

The survey noted conflicting results if prices soared as a result of the imposition of duties. 57% of installers stated that it would not have any immediate effect on their business, whereas 5% believed they would have to shutter operations and 10% feared they would have to dismiss employees in order to remain afloat.

However, results from a separate report released in February noted that duties could cost the European solar industry €27.8 billion, which could lead to 242,000 job losses in Europe.

In a bid to counter any negative effects of duties, 15% of European installers proposed changing their product range and buying fewer modules from China and 7% said they would pursue other business strategies and try to reduce the purchase price of other components such as inverters and mounting systems.

Additionally, the survey noted responses to why installers believed Chinese manufacturers have a price advantage over their European peers.

Government subsidies in favour of Chinese companies were cited as the principle reason by 68% of respondents. The better access by Chinese companies to capital was believed by 63% as the reason behind Chinese module manufacturers’ success in the European market.

A spokesman for the Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy (AFASE), a body representing European solar manufacturers opposed to the duties, told PV-Tech: “The idea that the PV installer industry is ambivalent to higher prices runs contrary to every other piece of research and data. Yesterday 1,000 companies from the EU solar industry wrote to the Commission warning about the grave impact of import duties.”

AFASE was behind the letter penned by Karel De Gucht. The letter noted that any potential duties arising from the current EC anti-dumping investigation could “severely hamper” the European solar industry “to the detriment of the entire EU solar PV value chain and without significant positive effect for the EU solar producers”.

The Chinese Ministry of Finance had earmarked US$9.5 billion of funding for solar power, announced last year, but more recent reports state that the EU investigations have already resulted in a negative effect on the Chinese domestic industry with a year-on-year drop in exports to Europe from China of 35%.

However, last week, the China Banking Regulatory Commission warned Chinese banks that the country's PV industry represents a credit risk.

The open letter and list of signatories can be viewed below:

Afase Open Letter Signatories 130403


Speaking to PV-Tech, EU Trade Spokesman John  Clancy said, "First of all, the investigation is on-going, so no decision has been taken yet to impose any duties. A full and rigorous investigation, in which all interested parties may participate, will ultimately determine whether there is dumping causing injury to the EU industry.

"Another key element in such investigations is to check that any anti-dumping measures are not against the Union interest. This means that the overall interests in the EU are taken into account – including the interests of domestic industry producing the product concerned, importers, EU industries that use the imported product and the end consumer of the product. So we listen to the views of all interested parties, including the users of solar energy.

"When dumping and injury were to be found, the Commission would balance this with the proposition of users that measures would be clearly not in the Union interest. Further details of how the Commission carries out this "balancing exercise" are included in the draft guidelines on "Union interest", published on 12 April for public consultation.

Clancy concluded: "For the time being, the outcome of the investigation is open”.