A group of European solar panel producers has lodged a new complaint with EU regulators, accusing Chinese rivals of trying to evade import tariffs by shipping their products via third countries.
The European Commission set in place in 2013 an arrangement allowing Chinese manufacturers to sell into the EU a limited number of solar panels, wafers and cells at a minimum price, following a complaint from the European group, EU ProSun.
EU ProSun, an association of EU producers, says its Chinese rivals have been getting round this and selling at lower prices by routing product via Taiwan and Malaysia, countries not subject to tariffs.
Milan Nitzschke, the president of EU ProSun and a vice-president of Germany’s SolarWorld, told Reuters up to 30% of Chinese solar imports bypass EU measures in this way.
Dutch tax inspectors last month carried out searches at a number of sites on suspicion an importer there had evaded duties of 65%, or €1.2 million, by bringing in panels via free ports in Malaysia and Taiwan.
SolarWorld, which lodged the complaint, is asking the Commission to launch an anti-circumvention investigation to cut off these channels.
It is one of a number of actions EU ProSun is taking to ward off what it says is a continued assault from Chinese rivals in what has proved a politically charged tussle between China and the EU.
The group is asking the Commission to modify a mechanism that has led to adjustments of the minimum price, generally downwards.
SolarWorld has also challenged the settlement at the European Court of Justice in a series of cases, some brought together with producers from Italy, Spain and Malta.
The Commission itself has monitored the undertaking and proposed excluding three Chinese solar panel makers because of alleged violation of the conditions, according to sources.
Some trade experts say the EU anti-fraud agency OLAF is also conducting an investigation into the failure of some importers to pay the requisite duties on panels brought in from China. OLAF does not comment on ongoing investigations.
EU ProSun may not like the EU settlement with Chinese solar module producers but says it will seek its renewal before it expires in December. Otherwise, Chinese rivals would be able to sell into the EU free of tariffs.
Its demand for a so-called expiry review would likely come in September and, if accepted by the Commission, would mean the undertaking and duties would extend for at least a year while the review is processed.
Groups advocating greater trade of solar panels were not immediately available for comment.
The European Commission decided in 2013 to impose punitive import duties on solar panels from China in a move to guard against what it sees as dumping of cheap goods in Europe.
Chinese solar panel production quadrupled between 2009 and 2011 to more than the entire global demand.
EU producers say Chinese companies have captured more than 80% of the European market from almost zero a few years ago, exporting €21 billion to the European Union in 2011.
As a result, Chinese-made panels are as much as 45% cheaper than those made in Europe, industry executives say.
Marking an escalation of the dispute, China hit back a few months later by launcing a probe into the EU wine sector.
While some European and US manufacturers would welcome EU action, installers and prospective purchasers of solar technology are concerned that such a move will drive up the cost of solar panels, leading to a slowdown in the deployment of the technology and job losses across the industry.
German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said the European Commission made a "grave mistake" by agreeing to duties on solar panels from China and urged the Commission to work to prevent the eruption of a trade conflict.
- Press release: EU imposes provisional anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese solar panels (4 June 2013)
- Memo: EU imposes provisional anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar panels (4 June 2013)
- Speech by Karel De Gucht on the decision to impose provisional anti-dumping measures on imports of solar panels from China (4 June 2013)
- Frequently asked questions: On the European Commission’s decision to impose provisional duties on imports of solar panels from China (Case AD 590) (4 June 2013)