BUSINESS

Canadian tribunal agrees domestic solar module makers at risk from China imports

07/06/2015 11:12 EDT | Updated 07/06/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Canada's smaller solar module manufacturers are applauding a favourable decision from the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, which has ruled that low-price imports from China pose a significant threat to the domestic industry.

The tribunal's decision allows Canada to continue imposing duties on most types of photovoltaic modules from China that are alleged to be subsidized and sold in this country at artificially low prices.

"If you take a look at it from a 10,000-foot perspective, I think it's the right outcome," lawyer Paul Conlin, whose Ottawa firm acted for four Ontario-based companies who filed the complaint last year, said Monday in an interview.

"It's good for the Canadian producers but I think it's also good for Canada," Conlin said. "I think having Canadian companies that are involved in producing this — as Canada is moving towards clean energy — is a very positive thing."

An investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency, which has been charging duties since March under a preliminary ruling, alleged in early June that about half a dozen Chinese companies, and a Chinese subsidiary of Canadian Solar International, were benefiting from foreign subsidies and dumping the products in this market.

In a statement Friday, the tribunal said the Canada's domestic industry hasn't been harmed yet but is generally threatened by the Chinese imports — a finding that's sufficient to keep the tariffs in place.

The two federal agencies were acting on a complaint filed last year by Silfab Solar, Heliene, Solgate and Eclipsall Manufacturing. However, they were opposed by several Chinese companies and domestic parties, including Canadian Solar.

A Montreal lawyer who acted for Canadian Solar, which has manufacturing operations in both China and Ontario, said it's too soon to say whether the tribunal's decision will be appealed.

"Canadian Solar expressed views during the case that it didn't need these types of measures," Vincent Routhier of DS Welch Bussieres said Monday.

"The company is capable of competing on a global basis and these types of measures — these trade impediments — aren't good for international business."

Another counter argument was that tariffs on Chinese imports would keep Canadian prices higher and could make it more difficult to eliminate the gap between the cost of producing solar power and the price of buying from the power grid.

A spokesman for the Canadian firm that acted for several Chinese solar module manufacturers was travelling in India on Monday and immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile, the other domestic manufacturers — which have been created in recent years — said Canada should follow the lead of the United States and European Union, which have imposed duties on imported solar modules from China.

The vice-president of operations for Strathcona Energy Group, now the owner of Eclipsall, said the tribunal's ruling is good news.

"The market has been waiting for the tribunal to complete their investigation and with this phase over everyone can move forward accordingly," Mikael Niskanen said in an email Monday

A spokesman for Silfab Solar said his company was also happy with the tribunal's decision, including its exclusion of a specific type of 195 watt module that's used for things such as recharging camper and boat batteries.

"We're focusing on advancing the market and having more efficiency and more power, so that solar is adopted faster and it's more economical," Silfab's Geoff Atkins said in a phone interview. "So our modules are almost 70 per cent more powerful than a 195W module."

The tribunal is scheduled to release reasons for its decision in about two weeks.

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