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Chinese solar imports to US down 45% year-on-year as import duties start to hit

Imports of Chinese solar cells and panels into the United States decreased for the second straight month in May year-over-year, according to the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM).

Chinese solar imports into the US totaled $124.1 million in May, down about 45% from $225.8 million in May 2011, according to the Department of Commerce's US Imports of Merchandise database. According to CASM, this significant decline in year-over-year totals “reflects the market's rising recognition of the costs, risks and uncertainties associated with importing Chinese solar cells and panels”.

Despite two months of declines, Chinese import levels for all of 2012 are still ahead of last year's pace: For the first five months of this year, the total value of Chinese cell and panel imports reached $1.21bn, up from $993.2m for the same period of 2011, an increase of 21.8%, according to the Commerce data.

The May totals reflect anti-subsidy duties of up to 4.73% on Chinese cells and panels, announced by the US federal government on March 26 – these were applied retroactively to imports starting December 27, 2011. They do not, however, fully reflect the impact of Commerce Department’s decision (announced May 20) to impose preliminary antidumping duties on Chinese solar cell and panel imports ranging from 31-249.96%, according to CASM. That decision was applied retroactively to all Chinese imports, starting Feb. 25. The 31% rate applies only to specifically named combinations of producers and exporters. Companies not specifically listed by the depertment must pay duty deposits at the 249.96% rate.

The Commerce Department is currently investigating the actual amount of dumping that occurred during the second and third quarters of 2011. Final duties for those imports, to be announced October 9, could differ. It has already identified categories of illegal subsidy programmes that will add to those final tariff rates.

CASM says the final duty rates for goods currently entering the US could increase even further. “The final determination will provide estimated duty deposit rates for current entries of Chinese imports, but those tariff rates will not actually be finalised for at least a year from now,” it says. “If Commerce determines that Chinese pricing in 2012 fell more than production costs for those imports, then the final duty margins for 2012 also will increase.”

Meantime, imports from several other countries continued to rise significantly, compared with shipments in May 2011. These countries include Malaysia ($135.5 million, up 950% year-on-year), Taiwan ($47.2 million, up 615%) and the Philippines ($41.5 million, up 47.3%). 

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity