Chinese Solar-Panel Makers Face Possible Renewal of EU Tariffs

  • Europe probes whether to prolong two-year-old duties on China
  • Trade case caused political tensions between EU, China

The European Union threatened to renew tariffs on solar panels from China, potentially rekindling what was the EU’s biggest trade dispute of its kind.

The European Commission said it would examine whether to re-impose two sets of duties introduced in December 2013 to counter alleged below-cost -- or “dumped” -- imports of solar panels from China and alleged Chinese subsidies. The opening of the renewable-energy trade probes coincides with a United Nations meeting in Paris aimed at striking a global agreement to curb fossil-fuel pollution, of which China is the biggest source, that is blamed for climate change.

The reviews “will determine whether the expiry of the measures would be likely to lead to a continuation or recurrence” of dumping and subsidization and “a continuation or recurrence of injury to the union industry,” the commission, the 28-nation EU’s trade authority in Brussels, said on Saturday in the Official Journal. The anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties were due to expire on Dec. 7 and will now stay in place during the inquiries, which can last as long as 15 months.

High-Level Consultations

The levies are tied to an EU-China agreement in late 2013 to curb European imports of Chinese solar panels after the commission concluded that they unfairly undercut producers in Europe such as Solarworld AG. The case covered EU imports valued at 21 billion euros ($22.9 billion) in 2011 and involved high-level political consultations between Europe and China.

The two-year accord set a minimum price and a volume limit on European imports from China of solar panels. Chinese manufacturers that opted to take part in the pact are spared the EU anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties as high as 64.9 percent.

The deal has shown cracks during the past several months, when the commission revoked duty exemptions for several Chinese companies that it accused of having broken the terms of the price-floor arrangement. The commission has also been probing whether exporters in China evaded the levies by shipping solar panels to the EU via Taiwan and Malaysia and whether Chinese prices should be excluded from a benchmark that underpins the agreement.

The investigations into whether to renew the anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties stem from Sept. 4 requests by EU ProSun, a group representing European solar-panel manufacturers, the commission said on Saturday.

The levies cover EU imports from China of crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules or panels and cells used in them. In a third probe opened on Saturday, the commission said it would review whether cells should continue to be subject to the duties. That inquiry will also last as long as 15 months.