China

India’s solar energy plans seem to have run into a spot of a bother.

The Indian government’s target is to boost installed solar power capacity more than five-fold to 100 gigawatt (GW) by 2022.

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The problem, though, is India meets about 85% of its solar cell demand through imports from China, and photovoltaic modules account for over half the costs of a solar project.

Now, the Indian government is left contemplating whether the domestic industry of solar cells and modules manufacturers should be “protected” from cheap imports. In that vein, the government is actively thinking of imposing an anti-dumping duty.

In a related development over last week, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has come out with a “concept note” for offering “direct financial support” of approximately U.S. $1.7 billion (Rs 11,000 crore), as well as a tech upgrade fund for solar manufacture. At the same time, it has said cell and module manufacturing capacity in the country is “obsolete.”

The concept note pointed India had installed capacity for producing 3.1 GW of cells and 8.8 GW of modules, but even this capacity was not being fully exploited because of obsolete technology. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy believes only 1.5 GW of cell manufacture and 3 GW of module manufacture is being used.

Now, as per the concept note, the Indian government aims to provide a 30% subsidy for setting up new plants, while also expanding existing ones. Heavy equipment required to set up projects shall also be exempt from customs duty, according to the scheme to be operated by the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency.

According to a news report, the Ministry’s note targets creation of solar cell manufacturing capacity of 10 GW over five years and includes interest subvention of 3% to manufacturers, setting up new capacity for loans taken through state-managed banks.

Cheap imports from China have brought down solar power tariffs to record lows, according to the Indian Solar Manufacturers Association. The latter has now petitioned the government to impose an anti-dumping duty on inbound shipments from China.

The concessions that the concept note speaks of are expected to bring down reliance on imports from China.

Already, there is a slowdown in fresh investments in this sector.

In November, tenders for new projects declined by 25% to 300 mega watt (MW) and auction of new offerings dropping by 98% to just 5 MW from levels of activity seen in October. According to the latest solar market update for the third quarter published by renewable energy market tracker Mercom Capital, a total of 1,456 MW of solar power projects was tendered and 1,232 MW auctioned in the period. The figures represented a marked reduction from the activity seen in the second quarter that saw 3,408 MW of solar projects tendered and 2,505 MW auctioned.

Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Safeguards and Anti-Dumping held the first oral hearing last Tuesday to investigate allegations of dumping imported solar cells and modules.

The domestic solar panel manufacturing industry, in a petition, had submitted that around 80% of the market had been taken away by imports. The domestic industry has taken the position that as imports harm the indigenous sector, a retrospective duty should be imposed on the importers. But this was challenged by some solar power project developers, who used the argument that silicon wafers required to make solar cells were also being imported, mainly from China, hence the domestic sector had no choice but to be dependent on imports.

The prices of panels have crashed to $0.32 per kWh from $0.50 per kWh in three years, owing to global over-capacity and “dumping” by China. The tariff for solar power projects has fallen by 80% in six years.

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All of the above could be music to the ears of the consumers … but not to the domestic manufacturers.

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Last week, China issued a global call to for countries to support the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the principles of global trade in the face of a perceived pullback from the U.S.

This week, China is risking another trade dispute by cutting export taxes on some steel products and fertilizers while completely canceling those for sales abroad of steel wire, rod and bars from Jan. 1, according to a Ministry of Finance announcement on Friday reported by Reuters. With the move, it appears, comes the expressed intention of boosting exports into markets already perceived as oversupplied.

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Just last month, the G20 convened a meeting in Berlin which included discussion of how to tackle excess global steel capacity over widespread fears China is using export markets to sell excess capacity.

That is a position China denies and points to the enforced closure this year of 100 million tons of legal and 120 million tons of illegal steel production. In reality, though, although the closure of illegal capacity — much of it scrap-based electric arc furnace (EAF) plants — the “closure” of legal capacity has been a mixed bag. Much of it was the permanent shuttering of already idled, older steel capacity.

China is not alone in having excess steel capacity — it arguably is not even in the forefront of global low-cost suppliers.

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This morning in metals news, global steel output rose last month, Chinese aluminum smelter cuts have fallen short, and a Trump administration official said the president’s new security strategy backs the case for potential tariffs on steel and aluminum.

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Global Steel Output Up

Although Chinese capacity cuts are on the horizon, global crude steel output rose by 3.7% in November, Reuters reported.

China’s goal of cutting capacity, in an effort to reduce pollution in the country, is expected to eat into that global output total.

November crude steel output in China hit a nine-month low, according to the report.

Meanwhile, in Aluminum Cuts…

How about Chinese efforts with respect to aluminum smelter closures?

According to Reuters, that has fallen short, as China has failed to implement closures for the winter season. As a result, the aluminum price has struggled in the face of record inventories in China.

New Security Plan Boosts Case for Steel, Aluminum Tariffs

As the metals industry waits for a resolution to the Trump administration’s Section 232 probes of steel and aluminum imports, a Trump administration official on Tuesday said the president’s new security strategy supports the case for steel and aluminum tariffs, Reuters reported.

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The Section 232 probes, launched in April, “are being discussed in the context of national security,” the official told Reuters. “The strategy highlights the importance of industrial strength, and that is also an element of the 232 analysis.”

Arcane as it sounds, by refusing to approve new judges to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) appellate panel (a form of supranational court in all but name, a Telegraph article explains) the U.S. is depriving the panel of the resources to function.

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The panel should have seven judges, such that at least three are always available to hear cases. With one judge having retired, the panel is down to six; by the end of this month, it will be down to four.

There is already a 40-case backlog and resolutions are taking too long, the Telegraph reports. Reducing the panel’s capacity further would effectively disable one of the WTO’s most important and successful functions, which is to settle disputes between states in a rules-based environment.

The U.S. action is driven by a deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the way the WTO operates and is aimed at achieving change rather than a desire to leave – despite what President Donald Trump tweets in soundbites.

Not Playing by the Rules

Firstly, the U.S. believes — with considerable justification — that some large developing countries do not abide by the rules, or rather hide behind the rules.

China, for example, is the world’s second-largest economy and has a disproportionate share of global trade. Yet, its status as an emerging economy allows it to avoid many of the constraints placed on developed economies.

Even after 16 years of WTO membership, China still has a massive state sector enjoying far-reaching subsidies and favored treatment by the state. In fact, recent actions in the name of combating pollution have, if anything, concentrated steel production even more among state producers as China, has shut 100,000 tons of electric arc furnace (EAF) private production capacity, thus concentrating and supporting power among the largely state-owned traditional blast furnace producers.

U.S. Perception of WTO Activism

The second issue is the U.S. believes the WTO has become more activist over time, deliberately dismantling protectionist measures in its rulings, ostensibly in the name of promoting global trade but to the detriment of major importers (like the U.S.).

Some will undoubtedly criticize the U.S. for its actions, but better to force through change than wholesale resignation from the organization and the rules-based system that has done so much over the last 20 years to resolve disputes amicably and avoid trade wars.

Even if changes are accepted to the WTO rules, patterns of global trade will take time to adjust.

Steel jobs are not going to flood back to the U.S., regardless of the president’s assurances. As the article points out, the U.S. already has massive tariffs in place against Chinese steel, but the U.S. steel industry is not powering back to employment levels seen before the WTO.

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Trade imbalances within the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) fall outside of the WTO remit and are a topic in their own right, but arguably the U.S. imbalances with the rest of the world have gone on for long enough.

Providing a ready and reliable export market to emerging economies has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and achieved an industrial revolution in Asia and South America; that should now allow those countries to trade on equal terms.

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This morning in metals news, the Japanese steel industry’s output is expected to grow next year, lenders have a new plan for Essar Steel, and China’s zinc and copper outputs in November were at their highest since late 2014.

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Japanese Steel Sector Set to Ramp Up Output

According to the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, the country can expect to see increased crude steel output in 2018 and 2019.

According to Reuters, Kosei Shindo, the chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, said “I hope that crude steel output (for next business year) would exceed 10.6 million tonnes.”

A New Plan for Essar Steel

In its insolvency proceedings, lenders to Essar Steel have reduced the time allowed to resolve the firm’s default, according to a report by the Economic Times.

The “single stage” process, according to the report, means any interested bidder has to meet both the conditions to be considered by the bankers, according to the report.

China Zinc, Copper Output Up

China’s output of copper and zinc in November was at its highest since December 2014, according to Reuters.

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According to the report, China’s refined copper output increased 9.8% to 786,000 tons, while zinc production rose 7.5% to 603,000 tons.

The Department of Commerce announced Wednesday, Dec. 13, that it had issued a preliminary affirmative determination in the countervailing duty (CVD) investigation of cast iron soil pipe fittings from China.

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The department announced the determination in a release, ruling that exporters from China received countervailable subsidies in a fairly broad range of 8.66-102.31%.

“The Trump Administration will not sit back and watch as American companies and workers are harmed by unfair government subsidies,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a prepared statement. “The United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade, and will continue to validate the information provided to us that brought us to this decision.”

The petitioner in the case was the Illinois-based Cast Iron Soil Pipe Institute, which boasts three members: AB&I Foundry (California), Charlotte Pipe & Foundry (North Carolina), and Tyler Pipe (Texas).

According to the department, the 79 antidumping or countervailing duty investigation it initiated from Jan. 20 to Dec. 11 of this year marks a 52 percent increase from investigations started during the same period last year.

As for the respondents, according to a fact sheet provided by the Commerce Department, the following preliminary subsidies were calculated for the respondents:

  • 8.66% for mandatory respondent Shanxi Xuanshi Industrial Group Co., Ltd.
  • preliminary subsidy rate of 12.72% for mandatory respondent Wor-Biz International Trading Co., Ltd. (Anhui).
  • Commerce applied an adverse facts available rate of 102.31% for mandatory respondent Shijiazhuang Chengmei Import & Export Co., Ltd. because of its failure to respond to the Department of Commerce’s request for information.
  • 10.37% for all other Chinese producers and exporters

According to the Department of Commerce, imports of cast iron soil pipe fittings from China during 2016 were valued at an estimated $8.6 million.

A final decision in the CVD case is scheduled for April 24, 2018.

U.S. ITC Rules in 5-Year Sunset Review of Stainless Steel Pipe Fittings

The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) issued its own ruling Dec. 14 on stainless steel butt-weld pipe fittings from Italy, Malaysia and the Philippines.

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The USITC ruled that removing existing antidumping duty orders on the product from the trio of countries “would be likely to lead to continuation or recurrence of material injury within a reasonably foreseeable time.”

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This morning in metals news, Chinese aluminum output fell to its lowest total since February 2015, Liberty House considers buying a large Rio Tinto smelter in France and copper approaches a two-week high.

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Chinese Aluminum Output Falls

Chinese primary aluminum production dropped for a fifth straight month, Reuters reported.

In fact, winter smelting restrictions saw output fall to its lowest in the country since February 2015, according to the report.

Liberty House Eyes Rio Tinto Smelter

According to Reuters, Liberty House is considering a bid for Rio Tinto’s aluminum smelter in northern France.

The Dunkirk plant is valued at around 200 million euros, according to Reuters sources familiar with the matter.

Copper Rises Near Two-Week High

A weakening dollar and positive Chinese manufacturing data saw copper rise on Thursday, Reuters reported.

The Chinese industrial sector grew faster in November than markets expected.

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London Metal Exchange copper traded at $6,760 a ton in official midday rings, according to the report.

With steel overcapacity touching a historic high at about 737 million tons (MT), and China adding to new capacity, this remains a huge industry concern.

Not only is the demand-supply market askew, jobs are being lost, especially in the United States, which, by one reckoning, has seen about 35% of steelmaking jobs vanish in the last two decades or so.

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So, when representatives of G20 member states met at the end of November for the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity in Berlin and announced they had come to a basic understanding on the need for restructuring of the sector and dismantling market-distorting subsidies to ensure a level-playing field, many welcomed the move.

In the meeting, China and the U.S. may have locked horns — but China’s neighbor, India, on the other hand, seemed more content regarding the developments coming out of the meeting.

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This morning in metals news, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill ending the state’s moratorium on gold and silver mining, Chile approaches a busy year for mine union negotiations, and Chinese steel futures drop.

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Going for the Gold in the Badger State

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill ending the state’s moratorium on gold and silver mining, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The moratorium was imposed in 1998, when Walker was a member of the state Assembly.

Union Negotiations on the Horizon in Chile

Chile’s copper mining industry has a busy schedule next year, with 32 union contracts on the docket, Bloomberg reported.

Chile, a dominant force in the copper industry, will negotiate the contracts, which represent approximately 75% of the country’s copper output, according to the report.

China Steel Futures Drop

Chinese steel futures took a dip Tuesday as a result of concerns regarding demand in the country, the world’s top steel consumer, according to Reuters.

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According to the report, upward price movement driven by supply constriction is expected to be counterbalanced by a drop in demand as winter weather affects construction projects.

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This morning in metals news, Chinese steel got a boost on the heels of another round of output cuts, Goldman Sachs executives warns about the potential of a U.S. departure from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Thyssenkrupp looks to get union backing for its European merger deal with Tata Steel.

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Chinese Steel on the Rise

On the heels of output cuts, Chinese steel got a boost Monday, according to a Reuters report.

According to the report, the most-active rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE) jumped 1.6%, ultimately closing at 3,912 yuan ($591.26) a ton.

Goldman Warns About NAFTA Exit

Goldman Sachs warned clients that it wasn’t optimistic regarding a positive resolution to the renegotiation talks.
“While we expect the rising odds of tax reform to put less pressure on the trade agenda, we do not expect passage of tax reform will raise the odds of a successful Nafta renegotiation,” Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients, according to Bloomberg. “And so a withdrawal announcement looks more likely than not, even if tax reform is enacted soon.”

Thyssenkrupp Looks to Win Union Favor

As German firm Thyssenkrupp works to execute a merger deal of its European operations with Tata Steel’s, the company is looking to win over its workers’ favor.

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According to Reuters, Thyssenkrupp is offering workers commitments on jobs and investments to get union backing for the deal (which was agreed to in September by the two companies in September).