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Confusion Reigns As European Solar Trade Complaint Appears Imminent

After months of rumors and false starts, it appears that SolarWorld AG is on the cusp of filing a trade complaint with the European Union trade commission against Chinese solar cells and modules, and it looks like the announcement could come later this week.

We’ve been down this road several times — even as early as last November when reported that SolarWorld was circulating a petition to launch a European-based investigation. Months later, several industry analysts predicted the paperwork would be filed during Intersolar in Munich, but again the date came and went. This week, however, gave the strongest indication that something is happening, and that it’s imminent.

On Tuesday, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) — the group formed to combat SolarWorld’s American case — issued a press release condemning the filing of a trade complaint in Europe.

Today Germany-based SolarWorld has once again demonstrated that it is willing to undermine the world’s solar industry in a desperate effort to avoid competition in the marketplace. The entire global solar industry — manufacturers, suppliers, installers and consumers — has benefited from the sharp decline in the price of solar cells, and our industry’s future success is predicated on our ability to continually improve the economics of solar electricity generation. SolarWorld desperately needs that trend to halt to remain competitive. Like a crazed agent provocateur, SolarWorld is fueling global solar industry infighting for its own selfish interest. On behalf of tens of thousands of U.S. solar workers, we are very disheartened by SolarWorld’s unnecessary and destructive actions and urge the EU to reject their petition.

CASE got out ahead of itself a bit, because the complaint had in fact not been filed. Jigar Shah, who help found and lead CASE, said in an email Tuesday night that the group had received false information. Several news reports surfaced, reporting that the case had been filed. But, a short time later, SolarWorld AG issued its own release, yet again confirming its intentions and for the first time giving at least a vague timeline for when and how this will come down.

We have always said that we will ask the European Union to take urgent action against unfair competition from Chinese solar manufacturers. We can confirm that SolarWorld is working together with leading European manufacturers to urge the European Commission to act. We will not reveal any specific dates, however the European industry initiative will communicate its intentions in the coming days.

For its part, China’s solar industry is already mobilizing against the likely filing. According to Bloomberg, about 40 Chinese companies will issue a statement outlining their stance as early as Thursday. And in a story filed by China Daily on Wednesday, the Ministry of Commerce said it “will probably take countermeasures.” We’ve already seen this in China’s reaction to SolarWorld’s American case, which led to heavy tariffs being placed on Chinese cells imported into the U.S. Just last week, China announced it is investigating whether U.S. and South Korea dumping solar-grade polysilicon into the China market at below cost.

SolarWorld’s American action has caused deep division within the U.S. solar market, and there is likely to be strong pushback from European installers and developers as well. However, European Union trade rulings are generally less punitive than those in the U.S., and commissioners who would be deciding the European case do take into account how such a ruling would impact everything from the economy to the environment.

SolarWorld AG is also keeping a close eye on how the American case unfolds. A final determination in the countervailing and anti-dumping duties, which currently total about 35 percent for the major manufacturers, is due out in the fall. Many of the larger Chinese companies have supply chains in place that will allow them to import cells from places like Taiwan. That would make panels marginally more expensive, but would make those incoming panels legally compliant. SolarWorld’s American subsidiary, however, is challenging the scope of the preliminary determination in an effort to keep Chinese manufacturers from tapping into those third-party solutions.

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