* Latest salvo in U.S.-China trade disputes
* China says move unfair
* Duties on most Chinese imports set at 31 percent
* Some could face tariffs of 250 percent
* Chinese solar shares slide; Taiwan stocks rally
By Matt Daily and Leonora Walet
May 18 The United States imposed punitive
tariffs on solar panel imports from China, the latest in a
series of trade disputes between the world's two biggest
economies and sparking accusations by Beijing of protectionism.
The new tariffs of 30 percent, much bigger than had been
expected, were set on Thursday by the U.S. Commerce Department
after it ruled in favour of local firms which said the Chinese
exporters were dumping cut-price solar panels on their market.
The size of the tariffs is larger than Chinese companies had
expected and some analysts said it might prompt them to
manufacture elsewhere or look for alternative markets.
"The U.S. decision lacks fairness, and China expresses its
strong displeasure", a spokesman for China's Ministry of
Commerce, Shen Danyang, said in a statement posted on the
ministry's website (www.mofcom.gov.cn).
"By deliberately provoking trade friction in the clean
energy sector, the U.S. is sending the world a negative signal
about trade protectionism," Shen said.
However, Beijing stopped short of threatening immediate
"We believe these measures by the United States damage
China-U.S. cooperation in the renewable and clean energy
sectors, and also damage U.S. interests. We hope the United
States can appropriately resolve the relevant issues, and take
practical steps to respond to China's demands," Foreign Ministry
spokesman Hong Lei said.
The tariffs apply to most top Chinese exporters, including
Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd and Trina Solar Ltd
, at about 31 percent.
The ruling follows a complaint filed last October by the
U.S. subsidiary of Germany's SolarWorld AG, and six
other U.S. companies that alleged unfair competition and had
sought duties well above 100 percent.
China's solar companies hold more than 60 percent of the
global market. The U.S. market alone accounts for about 20
percent of sales of China's largest solar panel manufacturers.
Their heavy reliance on subsidised U.S. and European markets
has prompted criticism that loans from Chinese state-run banks
and low prices gave the companies an unfair advantage.
Under the decision, 59 Chinese solar companies that
petitioned Washington in the case will also face an import duty
of about 31 percent, including Yingli Green Energy, LDK
Solar, Canadian Solar, Hanwha solar One
, JA Solar Holding and Jinko Solar.
Other Chinese companies could now face a 250 percent tariff,
although those levels could be altered before the final ruling
is issued by the Commerce Department in the coming months.
The U.S. ruling, retroactive to cover imports dating back 90
days, comes two months after Washington set more modest tariffs
of less than 5 percent on imports from China because of what it
deemed Beijing's unfair support for its solar industry.
Suntech, the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels,
which also operates a panel plant in Arizona, denied it sold
below its cost of production.
"All leading companies in the global solar industry want to
see a trade war averted. We need more competition and
innovation, not litigation," Andrew Beebe, Suntech's chief
commercial officer, said in a statement.
Yingli Energy and Trina Solar said they would actively
defend their position in administrative proceedings.
MIGHT BUY TAIWAN CELLS, WAFERS
There was speculation that Chinese companies could
circumvent the restrictions by buying Taiwan cells and wafers
for panels and assembling them outside the mainland.
"This is positive for Taiwanese players, which can come in
and supply solar cells to U.S. panel makers that won't be buying
from the Chinese," said Keith Li, analyst at CIMB Research.
Chinese companies had been bracing for a punitive duty of 15
percent, analysts said. Some have already started to look for
markets beyond Europe and the U.S.
"By late last year, we started shifting our focus away from
the United States and into other growth markets like Japan,"
said Solargiga Energy chief financial officer Jason Chow. "Japan
has started offering attractive incentives for solar."
The U.S. market accounted for more over 10 percent of
Solargiga's sales in 2011.
SPARRING ON TRADE
President Barack Obama, running for re-election in November,
has promised to crack down on what he said were unfair Chinese
Chinese officials have threatened to impose trade duties on
U.S. shipments of polysilicon, the key material used in solar
panels, if the U.S. moved to penalise Chinese solar companies.
"The anti-dumping ruling increases the risk of retaliatory
action by Chinese government on U.S. polysilicon imports into
China," a Deutsche Bank analyst said in a report.
Solar panel prices have tumbled more than half since the
beginning of 2011 amid a supply glut triggered by declining
subsidies in Europe and rapid global growth in the production
capacity of solar wafers, cells and panels.