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A new dawn for solar producers

Updated: 2013-11-13 14:23
By Xie Yu in Shanghai ( China Daily)

After trade disputes, sales to new markets are increasing steadily

Chinese solar manufacturers are rapidly diversifying away from the shrinking United States and European Union markets to Japan, India and emerging economies such as Africa.

The tactic is helping the sector regain its footing after trade disputes with the US and the EU. Industry sources said that sales to the new markets, while still too low to offset losses to traditional customers, are increasing steadily.

Wang Guiqing, vice-president of the China Chamber of Commerce for the Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products, said that exports to Europe have fallen to less than 30 percent of the total now from 70 percent in 2012, AAStocks, a financial news agency, reported on Tuesday.

Wang said that exports to the US, formerly the second-largest export destination, are down to about 10 percent of the total - half of the previous level.

Japan has taken the place of the US, making up the second-largest market and taking 20 percent of China's solar exports.

The successful shift has helped many Chinese solar manufacturers by boosting their revenue, reducing capital-draining inventories and providing funds for research and development.

The EU launched anti-subsidy and anti-dumping investigations against China's solar products last November.

In August, both sides agreed to resolve the dispute by capping annual shipments from China at 7 gigawatts - roughly half the 2012 level - and setting a minimum price for China's solar panels.

"Although Chinese companies have encountered obstacles in selling in the EU and US markets, opportunities in other regions are emerging," said Wang Hao, an analyst with Orient Securities Co Ltd.

Japan's high feed-in tariff rate has been a catalyst for that country's solar industry. And China's own goal of having 35 GW of installed solar capacity by 2015, and its policy support for solar plants, has lifted sales of solar products in recent months, he added.

"Sales to the European market have contracted sharply, but we are able to make up for the loss of market share by higher sales elsewhere," said Zhang Hanbin, senior market director of Nasdaq-listed Canadian Solar Inc, which is based in Jiangsu province.

Higher sales to the fast-growing Japanese market helped Canadian Solar halve its second-quarter loss and prompted it to forecast profitability on a full-year basis in 2013.

"The Japanese market is nowadays the biggest for our business, followed by other emerging markets", Zhang added.

Exports to India approached $700 million in the first nine months of this year, compared with $100 million in the final four months of 2012, Zhang said.

"Japan has been a market with stable growth and good prices. And solar power in India has huge potential due to the insufficient power grid infrastructure," she said.

But she also noted that prices in the Japanese market are dropping, as more Chinese companies compete for market share.

Zhang Longgen, chief financial officer of Jiangxi Jinko Solar Co Ltd, said that Europe used to be the company's top export destination, but the weighting has been declining steadily.

"The potential for growth now lies in China and Japan," he said, adding that 40 percent of sales are likely to be within China next year, with Europe and the US each taking up less than 20 percent of total shipments.