February 4, 2013 1:25 pm

Fresh accusations in China dumping case

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European solar glass manufacturers have accused their Chinese competitors of dumping, opening a new front in an ongoing EU-China trade fight over renewable energy.

A group of EU companies have filed a formal complaint with the European commission, the EU’s executive arm, in which they allege that Chinese manufacturers have sold their products well below cost in Europe in order to steal market share.

The European companies, under the name EU ProSun Glass, are seeking tariffs of more than 100 per cent on imported Chinese solar glass – a thin film just a few millimetres thick that covers rows of solar cells. It requires higher levels of purity than typical window glass.

The solar industry is already the source of the EU’s biggest ever trade investigation after Brussels launched a probe in November of Chinese cells and panels, roiling relations between the two sides.

Commission investigators are currently in China, searching for evidence to substantiate claims that solar panel manufactures received illegal subsides from Beijing and then dumped their products in Europe. Chinese solar panel exports to the EU amounted to €21bn in 2011.

Beijing and Chinese manufacturers have denied any wrongdoing and focused attention instead on Europe’s own system of government subsidies.

The glass case is far smaller – the entire EU market amounted to less than €200m last year. Nonetheless, the companies pursuing the complaint argue that it adds to the picture of an illicit Chinese scheme to capture all elements of a burgeoning green technology industry.

“China is so intent on trying to dominate the entire solar industry that it is not only hitting the core, but also complementary products,” said Ulrich Frei, managing director of Interfloat, a Lichtenstein-based solar glass manufacturer that operates in Germany.

EU ProSun Glass is not formally affiliated with EU ProSun, the separate coalition that launched the solar panel complaint.

Interfloat, which accounts for about 28 per cent of the EU market, invested €50m in a plant in Germany in 2008 to make and refine solar glass. It claims that Chinese companies, such as Guangdong Golden Glass and Shanghai Flat Glass Co., have been selling their products for about half the €8 per-square-meter that is the break-even point for European producers. As a result, their market share in Europe has jumped from 8 per cent in 2010 to 27 per cent last year, according to the complaint.

EU ProSun Glass believes the lower prices were enabled, in part, by the provision of subsidised electricity, which accounts for about one-third of solar glass production costs. Its members are expected to expand the complaint in the weeks ahead to include allegations of illegal subsidies.

Under EU rules, the commission must now determine whether there is sufficient evidence to open a formal investigation.

The solar panel dispute has proved highly divisive within the European industry. Companies that sell solar production equipment to China and the many smaller firms that install panels across the EU have lobbied against the EU ProSun case, arguing that higher tariffs would be counterproductive because they would drive up the cost of solar for consumers and threaten thousands of European jobs.

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