* Tariffs have not slowed dramatic decline in solar panel
* US Commerce decision unlikely to stray far from
* Solar panel makers have also filed action in Europe
against Chinese manufacturers
By Doug Palmer and Nichola Groom
WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES, Oct 8 The U.S. Commerce
Department on Wednesday will announce final duties on billions
of dollars of solar panels from China in a high-profile case
that has raised fears of further damage to an already fragile
The department set combined preliminary duties of roughly 35
percent earlier this year on most Chinese solar panels to offset
what it said were unfair prices and government subsidies.
The case was brought by a group of U.S. producers led by
SolarWorld Americas, whose German parent has also
filed action in Europe against Chinese solar panel imports.
So far, the tariffs have not slowed a dramatic decline in
prices for solar panels. Globally, prices are down 30 percent
this year alone due to a massive glut of panels. The rapid
expansion of solar panel manufacturing in China in recent years
is largely to blame for the massive oversupply, which has erased
profits for makers of solar products and sent share prices in
the industry into a tailspin.
One analyst said he does not expect Wednesday's ruling to be
a game-changer for Chinese panel manufacturers or their
"The market will be surprised if the Commerce Department
changes significantly from its preliminary ruling," said
Brigantine Advisors solar analyst Ramesh Misra.
"Does it have much of an impact on the Chinese companies at
this point? Most of them are already in mitigation mode trying
to figure out ways around it."
China has warned that the U.S. and European Union cases both
could damage trade ties and cripple healthy development of the
global solar and clean energy sector.
It has already struck back by launching an investigation
into imports of solar-grade polysilicon from both the United
States and South Korea.
The Commerce Department on Wednesday will either raise or
lower its separate anti-dumping and countervailing duty
calculations on the Chinese panels, based on any new information
it has found in its investigation.
It will also revisit a decision to exclude panels made from
non-Chinese solar cells from the duties. A number of U.S.
lawmakers have criticized that ruling, saying it would simply
encourage Chinese manufacturers to move solar cell production
outside China to circumvent U.S. duties on panels. Solar cells
are assembled to make solar panels.
The last stage of the case will come in early November, when
a separate agency, the U.S. International Trade Commission, will
vote on whether to approve the duties or not.
Last year, the panel allowed the case to go forward by
voting 6-0 that there was reasonable indication that U.S.
producers had been materially harmed by the imports.
For duties to be denied, four commissioners would have to
vote in November that U.S. producers have not been materially
harmed or threatened by the Chinese-made solar products.
In the first round, Suntech Power Holdings, Trina
Solar and 59 other Chinese solar companies were hit with
preliminary anti-dumping duties of slightly more than 31
percent. "All other" Chinese solar companies got a preliminary
anti-dumping duty of about 250 percent.
Suntech and Trina also received preliminary countervailing
duties of 2.90 percent and 4.73 percent, respectively. All other
Chinese solar companies were also hit with a preliminary
countervailing duty rate of 3.61 percent.
SolarWorld Americas President Gordon Brinser said last week
the preliminary duties were too low, while both Chinese
manufacturers and U.S. companies that install solar panels argue
they will hurt the sector by raising costs.
On the bright side, the tariffs could force some Chinese
production capacity to shut down.
"That might drive consolidation in the Chinese market and
that would be a huge net positive," Brigantine's Misra said.