State of the Union Address: Von der Leyen recalls »unfair trade practices« of Chinese solar industry
Post date: 14/09/2023 - 12:09
In her »State of the Union Address« on Wednesday (Sept. 13), European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lamented that European companies too often »are excluded from foreign markets or are victims of predatory practices,« especially in new, emerging industrial sectors such as battery and electric car production. In the process, they are »undercut by competitors benefitting from huge state subsidies.«
While this could also be understood as an allusion to differences between the EU and the USA, the Commission President then made explicit reference to the Chinese solar industry: »We have not forgotten how China's unfair trade practices have affected our solar industry,« von der Leyen said, apparently adopting the view that it was solely due to these trade practices that Europe was at no time able to meet its own demand for solar cells and modules from domestic production.
Von der Leyen’s comments coincide with energetic appeals from a number of European solar industry companies and also from politicians. For example, Wolfram Günther, energy and climate protection minister in the German federal state Saxony, where solar companies Meyer Burger, Heckert Solar and Solarwatt operate production facilities, had warned of a »drop in prices for solar modules in the EU as a result of the massive import of subsidized solar modules from China«. Günther therefore called for massive intervention by the EU. The Green party politician took up a suggestion also circulating in the solar industry, that the EU could buy up solar modules from European production and use them »for the energy policy reconstruction of Ukraine.«
According to Günther's view, which is apparently shared not only by quite a few European solar industry companies, but also by the EU Commission, Chinese solar modules are sold »far below manufacturing costs.« However, independent analysts do not confirm this assessment. For example, in its latest forecast on the global photovoltaic market, market research company Bloomberg New Energy Finance cited competition among Chinese solar companies and the current overcapacities as the main reasons for the current low prices (our news item of September, 7). Conversely, in addition to the Corona pandemic, capacity bottlenecks, especially for silicon, were previously the reason why prices did, for a longer period of time, not follow the expected downward course in line with the learning curve.
The European solar industry association Solar Power Europe (SPE) also warned of an acute threat: »Europe's solar manufacturers are at risk of bankruptcy,« SPE said in a statement on the »State of the Union« speech. However, the association, which counts many Chinese and other foreign companies as its members, did not address the accusation of unfair trade practices and, moreover, also reminded of the equally difficult situation of project developers facing »inflationary headwinds.«