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Initial US-China trade deal gives polysilicon makers room to breath

The Moses Lake polysilicon factory. Source: REC Silicon. License: All Rights Reserved.

January 16 (Renewables Now) - The governments of the US and China on Wednesday sealed a Phase 1 trade deal that includes a provision for the Asian nation to buy polysilicon manufactured in the US.

“When fully implemented, China’s commitments will create a better environment for US exporters and investors and begin the process of rebalancing the economic relationship between the United States and China,” said Thomas J Donohue, the CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce. A press release by the American lobbying group notes that the two sides should start discussing a Phase 2 deal as soon as possible in order to address concerns related to subsidies, digital trade and data discrimination, as well as non-tariff barriers to US producers and service providers.

The Phase 1 deal was immediately welcomed by the three remaining polysilicon manufacturers in the US -- REC Silicon ASA of Norway, US-based Hemlock Semiconductor Operations (HSC) and Germany’s Wacker Polysilicon, part of Wacker Chemie AG (ETR:WCH). They, however, pointed out that any benefit for local producers and workers will depend on how China executes the agreement.

“While we hope that this partial restoration of access to China’s polysilicon market will improve the outlook for US polysilicon producers, it’s imperative that the US continues to focus on developing and strengthening critical links in the solar value and supply chains, providing a market for our polysilicon and other US solar manufacturers here in the vibrant domestic US solar market,” commented Tore Torvund, CEO and president of REC Silicon.

China imposed tariffs on US-made solar-grade polysilicon in 2014. Since then, HSC has abandoned a USD-1-billion-plus (EUR 896m) plan to build a new polysilicon plant in Tennessee, while a SunEdison polysilicon production facility in Pasadena, Texas was shut down in 2015 and then acquired by a Chinese company. REC Silicon closed its USD-1.7-billion polysilicon plant in Moses Lake, Washington, in July 2019 and axed about 450 employees.

The three companies still have plants in the US, with REC Silicon operating in Butte, Montana, HSC in Hemlock, Michigan, and Wacker in Charleston, Tennessee.

China accounts for more than 92% of global polysilicon demand.

(USD 1.0 = EUR 0.896)

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