Taiwan’s solar technology industry, the world’s second largest, faces U.S. government trade sanctions after selling components to Chinese producers that shipped finished modules onward to the United States. Word in Taipei: They’re not guilty but might be hit anyway as the U.S. tries to protect local makers against red-hot imports.
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The U.S. Department of Commerce will decide whether findings by its International Trade Commission Feb. 14 merit anti-dumping penalties against Taiwanese exporters. Taiwanese makers of photovoltaic cells for finished Chinese modules are bracing for a harsh verdict as the commerce department crunches financials to determine how much Taiwan’s industry made from the fourth quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of last year. A final verdict is due in August. Taiwanese suppliers stood a 50-50 chance of profiting then, says the Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute, a government-backed IT industry research group.
Taiwan is innocent, it says, but solar components could be slapped anyway as the United States frets about a trend of lower priced imports.
“Their substantially low utilization rates can serve as a testament to the lack of intention to dump products,” institute senior analyst Sean Kao says. “A rational interpretation of the criteria will not provide sufficient support for the U.S. government’s decision to impose anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Taiwanese PV cell vendors. However, many Taiwanese vendors are still pessimistic about the possible final ruling, expecting that the United States will hurt Taiwan based on the consideration of its own benefits.”
Taiwan’s solar tech industry took off about 10 years ago along with global growth of solar energy. Its capacity of 8,000 megawatts per year ranks it as the world’s second largest industry after China’s. It produced about 6,300 megawatts worth last year. Industry stars are Neo Solar Power, the largest maker in Taiwan and second in the world. Delta Electronics, founded by multimillionaire Bruce Cheng, is Neo’s biggest shareholder with a 17% stake. Gintech and Motech are other top manufacturers. Product-specific sanctions could technically raise tariffs on any of them, with levels above 10% likely hurting orders and outraging Taiwanese exporters.
Taiwan had no way of knowing the Chinese module makers would export to the United States, says Arthur Hsu, analyst with Taipei-based market research firm TrendForce. The U.S. government imposed anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar panels on Chinese solar panels imported since October 2012. “Taiwan just got stuck in this,” Hsu says. “To sell outside is China’s own decision. Taiwan is a supplier to the Chinese side, and we can’t go and ask where the modules will sell.”
The threat of sanctions started last year with an International Trade Commission complaint from SolarWorld Industries America. The U.S. government may back its cause because solar imports claim more than 30% of domestic demand and cost 10%-15% less, Hsu says. “We don’t think Taiwan affected U.S. businesses,” he says. Whether U.S. officials pursue them is “hard to say.”