The European Union ordered its customs officials to register imports of Chinese solar panels, underscoring the threat of tariffs on the shipments in the biggest EU trade dispute of its kind.
The step, part of inquiries into whether Chinese producers of solar panels receive trade-distorting government aid and sell them in the 27-nation EU below cost, would allow the bloc to impose duties retroactively. Both probes stem from complaints by EU ProSun, an industry group led by Germany’s Solarworld AG.
The two cases cover 21 billion euros ($27 billion) of EU imports in 2011 of crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules or panels and cells and wafers used in them. Levies against subsidies are called countervailing duties and those against below-cost -- or “dumped” -- imports are anti-dumping duties.
“Imports of the product concerned should be made subject to registration in order to ensure that, should the investigations result in findings leading to the imposition of anti-dumping and/or countervailing duties, those duties can, if the necessary conditions are fulfilled, be levied retroactively,” the European Commission, the EU’s trade authority in Brussels, said today in the Official Journal. Registration will start tomorrow and last nine months.
Last September, the EU opened an inquiry into whether Chinese makers of solar panels such as Suntech Power Holdings Co. dump them in Europe and harm European competitors including Solarworld. Two months later, the EU began a separate investigation into whether Chinese producers receive subsidies.
EU governments must decide by early December whether to impose anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on Chinese solar panels for five years. The commission must decide by early June whether to apply provisional anti-dumping duties and by early August on possible preliminary countervailing levies.
EU ProSun hailed the commission decision on registration, saying it would slow imports from China because of the possibility that European importers would later be forced to pay punitive duties on the goods.
“This is a very important step,” Milan Nitzschke, president of EU ProSun, told reporters today in Brussels. “This has an immediate impact on imports. We expect the amount of imports to go down very rapidly and significantly.”
Chinese companies have gained more than 80 percent of the market in Europe for solar goods compared with almost zero in 2004, EU ProSun said on Sept. 6 when the commission opened the dumping case.
Europe accounts for around three-quarters of the global photovoltaic market. China produces about 65 percent of solar panels worldwide, the commission said six months ago when opening the dumping case. The EU is China’s main export market for the renewable-energy technology, accounting for roughly 80 percent of Chinese sales abroad, according to the commission.