‘No to trade protectionism’ say Chinese solar companies

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Three of the world’s largest solar companies gathered at the Grand Hyatt Beijing Hotel today to protest against European Commission plans to levy tariffs as high as 67.9% on Chinese products.

Yingli Green, Trina Solar and Canadian Solar that led the protest said that “any form of trade protectionism” and punitive tariffs are “not conducive for the development of a healthy PV industry”.

Legal director from Yingli Green Energy Fan Zhenhua representing the Chinese PV industry told journalists that he was optimistic the European Commission and Chinese governments could negotiate a settlement. Zhenhua urged the commission to not impose trade protectionist measure which would ultimately “result in a lose-lose situation”.

The speakers said: “We are opposed to any form of trade protection measures. We call on EU member states to join us, oppose trade protectionism and support free trade.”

Tens of thousands of employees from over 40 Chinese PV companies are expected to hold protests today at their respective plants in support of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce’s own investigations into European products.

A spokesman for the Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy, a European lobby group opposed to duties, told PV-Tech: “A trade war between China and the EU, the world’s two largest trade blocs, would benefit no one. AFASE calls on both parties to seek a negotiated solution to the solar dispute that avoids price increases, taking into account the interests of the EU upstream and downstream solar industry. AFASE supporters have made it very clear towards the European Commission that the current market development leaves no room for price increases and that duties as low as 15% will destroy 85% of EU PV demand.”

Luc Graré, senior vice president solar sales and marketing at REC warned: “While we will see a price advantage for us in the European market, we expect increased competition in the Asia Pacific region with the introduction of import duties there. Since Chinese manufacturers will then try to aggressively sell their solar panels in Asia, the price pressure will rise in that region.”

Meanwhile, PV-Tech’s sister site Solar Power Portal reported the UK government has broken its silence over the ongoing EC investigations, urging other EU member states in Brussels today to vote against duties.

The country’s minister for energy and climate change, Greg Barker, has personally written to all 26 EU environment ministers ahead of his visit, calling on his peers to “follow the UK in backing the growth of solar”.

A spokewoman for the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “We have serious reservations about these proposals, which we have made clear to the European Commission. These plans could have a significant knock-on effect on the price of solar panels, putting the growth of the low carbon market across Europe at risk and making solar PV a less viable option for householders and businesses in the UK.

“Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker is with representatives from the solar industry in Brussels today to make the UK’s case.”

Barker’s vocal opposition to the potential duties follows the German vice chancellor and economy minister Philipp Rösler’s recent outburst, in which he labelled the EC’s plans as a “grave mistake”.

However, past anti dumping and anti subsidy trade cases between the European Commission and China have generally led to the imposition of duties because the EC refuses to offer China market economy treatment (MET) status. By not granting MET to Chinese companies it effectively allows Brussels to impose higher anti-dumping duties on Chinese imports suspected of being dumped.

Coincidently, but not necessarily linked to the trade case, the commission has released a statement today which asks member states to hold the first ever EU-China investment negotiations.

The main objectives of such an agreement at EU level would be to improve the protection of EU investments in China as well as Chinese investments in Europe, improving legal certainty regarding treatment of EU investors in China, reducing barriers to investing in China and, as a result, increasing bilateral investment flows. It should also, crucially, cover improved access to the Chinese market.

The commission said goods and services worth well over €1 billion are traded between both partners every day.

“An EU-China investment agreement will help deepen our ties and sends the signal that we are firmly committed to building a strong partnership”, said EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht.

“The agreement needs to secure existing openness and deliver new liberalisation of the conditions for accessing each other’s investment market. Crucially, it should also improve the treatment of investors and their assets – including key technologies and intellectual property rights. I look forward to working with the new Chinese government to reach a deal.”

Update: 

The first round of negotiations between China and the European Commission have broken down claimed the Chinese Ministry of Commerce yesterday. 

According to a statement MOFCOM the EC rejected China's proposals of a “price promise”. Details were not disclosed. 

MOFCOM has asked the EC to “show sincerity” in its committment to conduct negotiations with China.

Update 2:

In response to claims of discord from the Chinese, EU trade spokesman John Clancy said in a statement on Thursday: “These claims are simply wrong and misleading for one simple reason – no formal negotiations are yet ongoing between the EU and China in the solar panel anti-dumping case.”

“These technical preparatory talks have nothing to do with a proper negotiation.”

He added that according to EU law, formal negotiations could begin only after “preliminary findings” from the investigation are published in the EU's Official Journal.

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