Recently, Solar World and several U.S. companies filed a trade complaint against the Chinese solar cell manufacturers. They felt that the Chinese companies benefited from unfair subsidies and that they were ”dumping” their products on the U.S. market at an artificially low cost. This resulted in job loss and even bankruptcy for many U.S. manufacturers.

In response to these complaints, the U.S. department of commerce issued anti-dumping duties of 31 % to a specific group of Chinese companies (such as Suntech and Trina Solar) and a tariff as high as 250 % to all others, including some controlled by the Chinese government. Because of the surge of solar cell imports triggered by anticipation of the new tariffs, the department of commerce also announced that the duties would apply retroactively 90 days.

The Chinese are contesting the punitive tariffs and say that the competition was never unfair. Four major Chinese solar companies have recently formed the SEPA (Solar Energy Promotion Alliance) to combat the U.S. ruling. These measures are also meeting with opposition elsewhere. Some U.S. companies which depended on Chinese solar cell imports will be harmed by the ruling, and are claiming that the anti-dumping tariffs may actually harm the U.S. solar industry in the long run.

Some companies in the European Union, such as Wacker Chemie in Germany, are also firmly opposed to taking similar initiatives in the European Union. They say that historically, punitive tariffs only serve to strangle the industry as a whole and to encourage trade wars. According to them, a balanced competitive market can only be achieved through political negotiations. The EU has not yet taken steps to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese solar cells, however there is talk that several countries in the European Union, such as Germany, may do so soon.

-Hélène Antaya

(Chemistry, PhD, Year 2 at The University of Montreal)