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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: Indian Automotive Sector – Reeling under the Budget

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The Indian automotive industry has been witnessing a period of recovery and growth over the past couple of years. Every year, automakers look towards the government to provide a stimulus in the form of favorable policies and budget allocations, to spur growth in the sector. A week has passed since the announcement of Indian budget for FY 2018-2019. We take a look at its short and long-term impact across the automotive value chain.

Supply-side scenario (component manufacturers and OEMs)

The current Indian government under Prime Minister Modi has been focusing on promoting domestic production of automobiles and auto components, as a part of its “Make in India” campaign. A 5% increase in customs duty on imported completely knocked down (CKD) cars and automotive components for assembly and sale in India is seen as another step in this direction.

While international OEMs such as Volkswagen and Skoda have been left reeling under the burden of additional costs, this provides an opportunity to spur growth particularly in the domestic components manufacturing.

Another positive news for domestic automotive components manufacturers, most of which are small and medium scale enterprises, is the reduction in corporate tax rate by 5% percentage points (for companies with a turnover of under INR 250 Crores / USD 38.83 million). These tax savings can provide companies with additional capital to invest in their business, aiding their long-term growth.

Investments in road and rural electrification infrastructure also encourage OEMs to bring new products, particularly electric vehicle (EV) portfolio, to the Indian market. However, lack of an established EV infrastructure means that this market development is likely to occur only over a long-term horizon.

Demand-side scenario (individual and corporate consumers)

The key factor impacting the demand for automobiles is perhaps how deep the consumers’ pockets are (or can be) after bearing all the tax burdens – in other words, how high the disposable income is in India. This is even more relevant for the lower-end of the market (or the so-called “mass spectrum”).

Minimal income tax incentives to individuals, coupled with rising inflation, are likely to limit the disposable income of most people (particularly in the low and medium income brackets), which form the largest consumer base for automobiles in terms of volume.

A booming stock market in India attracted several consumers in the middle income group to invest their capital in equities. Levy of a 10% long-term capital gain tax (LCGT) on returns from these equities (although grandfathered till INR 1 Lakh / USD1,553) is likely to put even further pressure on consumers’ pockets, especially for those looking to finance their automobile purchases by getting the most out of their investments.

Moreover, the knee-jerk reaction to this year’s budget was also observed on the equity market. The negative sentiment has led India’s two leading stock exchanges – BSE and NIFTY – witnessing a 5% decline within a 7 day period from the announcement of the budget, thereby eroding consumer’s wealth, which may further impact consumers’ short-term decisions to purchase vehicles.

On the other hand, the support provided to the agricultural sector is likely to spur demand for tractors and small passenger vehicles in rural areas, however this demand growth is dependent on the agricultural output, and derived from it incomes, in the coming year.

Aftermarket scenario (recyclers)

For the past couple of years, automotive companies as well as aftermarket recyclers have been expecting the government to bring in the scrapping policy, which would allow consumers as well as OEMs to benefit from voluntary replacement and scrapping of vehicles older than 15 years. However, lack of any announcements related to this policy has left the aftermarket recyclers and OEMs disappointed. They will need to wait to tap the demand expected to come from voluntary replacement of old vehicles in exchange of monetary benefits.

EOS Perspective

The scenario for electric vehicles (EVs) looks bright over a long term with significant investments going into development of rural electrification infrastructure, which will impact the development of the EV ecosystem beyond the metros as well. OEMs look at this as an opportunity, and this is evident from the number of EVs and electric concept cars to be unveiled at the Auto Expo 2018, India’s largest automotive exhibition. However, in a short to medium term, the adoption of EVs is likely to be limited to the corporate sector. General mass adoption is likely to lag behind due to vehicles’ high prices, and limited distance range/capacities offered by the current EVs available in the market.

As the mass automobile demand is expected to remain lull in the short term, the market will be driven by luxury and premium segments, which is largely unaffected by the budgetary challenges. A push is evident from OEM-side as well, with a number of premium, high-end products (such as SUVs, large displacement motorcycles, and luxury vehicles) launched at the Auto Expo 2018.

While the budget has left a lot to be desired, there are positives which bode well over the long term. The market is likely to witness a downturn in demand over a short term, as the consumers are likely to turn to preservation of wealth till the negative market sentiment prevails. Moreover, as the government invests in infrastructure projects, demand for both commercial and private vehicles is likely to pick up in the future.

It remains to be seen how soon the market witnesses a recovery in terms of automobile demand. One thing is certain, as always, when the budget comes next year, expectations will be high, partially fed by this year’s disappointments.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

China’s Cross-Border E-Commerce Sector Enjoying Government Support – But for How Long?

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It is a well-known fact that China, today, is the largest and fastest growing e-commerce market globally. Accounting for close to half of the global e-commerce sales, China’s e-commerce industry is witnessing a double-digit growth, rising by about 26% in 2016. Leading the growth in China’s e-commerce sector is cross-border e-commerce (CBEC), which is currently witnessing close to double the growth compared with the overall industry and is expected to continue to grow robustly over the next five years. The government has not only been charging favorable duty to promote CBEC, but has also created special customs-clearing zones in 13 cities to support cross-border trade. However, in 2016, the government came up with a new set of taxation and a list of items that were allowed to be only imported. Following a significant industry pressure, the government has pushed the implementation of these rules to the end of 2018, and it now remains to be seen whether the industry will continue to receive government support which is instrumental for it to flourish.

Cross-border e-commerce (CBEC) has been creating quite a buzz globally, and leading this global trend is China, one of fastest growing markets with respect to CBEC. A plethora of social factors such as improved standards of living, increased awareness about foreign products through greater international travel as well as access to information online, increased quality consciousness among consumers, limited options available locally (especially in product categories such as infant milk formula and health supplements) have resulted in escalated demand for international products in China. All these factors, along with the ease of buying through e-commerce and the growing tendency of Chinese people to use their mobile phones to shop, have resulted in exponential growth of the CBEC sector in the country.

China’s CBEC Industry – At a Glance

Retail Sales and Growth: The industry was estimated at US$85.8 billion in sales in 2016 and is expected to double up sales to about US$158 by 2020. The number of CBEC customers in China is estimated to rise from about 181 million in 2016 to close to 292 million in 2020.

Trade Partners and Goods: The UK, USA, Australia, France, and Italy are some of China’s largest trading partners with regards to CBEC. Cosmetics, food and healthcare products, mother and child solutions (including infant formula), clothing and footwear are the most shopped categories through CBEC.

Consumer Profile: About 65% of the customers are male and 75% are between the age of 24 and 40. Most of the customers are well-educated, with three-fourth of them having at least a graduate degree. The ticket size for about half of these purchases ranges between US$15 and US$75 (RMB100-500).

Leading Players: Most cross-border online sales are undertaken through third-party online marketplaces such as TMall Global (owned by Alibaba group) and JD Worldwide (owned by JD Group, China’s second largest e-commerce player). Global e-commerce leader, Amazon is also becoming increasingly active in China.

The government has also provided immense support to the CBEC sector, a fact that has been critical to the market growth. As an effort to weed out the illegal grey market imports and to promote e-commerce, China’s government relaxed cross-border e-commerce rules and the applicable custom rates (close to 15 to 60% depending on the item). Moreover, custom duty amounting to less than US$7.5 (RMB50) was exempted. The government also created 13 CBEC zones across the country in order to expedite custom clearing of foreign items ordered online. These zones house large warehouses where foreign brands and retailers stock items, which, upon being ordered, are put through custom clearance (under relaxed rules). This way the consumer receives foreign goods within few days of ordering it.

While this has been greatly benefiting the Chinese consumers who now have an access to a range of products that were once seemingly out of reach for the public at large, it is also revolutionizing how foreign players are operating in China. Traditionally, foreign companies (brands) required to have a legal entity in China (subsidiary, partner, or own manufacturer) to import goods through the general trade channels. These legal entities had the task to clear import customs and pay duties on goods imported into the country. However, under the CBEC channel, these foreign players are freed from the requirement of establishing a local entity before selling their goods in the Chinese market. This also relieves companies from several compliance procedures that they were required to follow in case they were entering the market through offline trade channels. Therefore, several players, who shied away from China in the past (owing to cumbersome product registration and approval process), are looking at this as their entry strategy in the market. Simpler compliance checks and reduced import taxes have also made it easy for companies to experiment and launch a host of products (on a hit and miss basis) in the Chinese market without much investment.

However, while CBEC has greatly supported the cause of promoting e-commerce and aiding international companies in accessing the Chinese markets, it has seriously hampered the business of several domestic players (especially in the cosmetics and health supplements industry) who have been protected from foreign competition in the past owing to strict import rules. Moreover, it has resulted in a major disadvantage for conventional retailers with a brick and mortar setup as goods sold through the CBEC route are levied with a lower number of taxes compared with similar goods sold through traditional trade channels in China.

Owing to these factors, in April 2016, the government revised the taxation rates for CBEC goods resulting in a marginal increase in taxes for few categories. Under the new rules, products would be temporarily levied with 0% import tariff but would be taxed at 70% of the applicable VAT and consumption tax rate, which changes based on the product category. For instance, cosmetics worth RMB500 (US$75) ordered through CBEC would be taxed 0% import tariff + VAT at 11.9% (i.e. 70% of applicable VAT rate for cosmetics – 17%) + consumption tax at 21% (i.e. 70% of applicable consumption tax for cosmetics – 30%), thereby, making the total amount equal to RMB664.5 (US$100). In addition to the changes in taxation, the government removed the waiver of custom duty of up to US$7.5 (RMB50) and set a limit of US$302 (RMB2,000) on a single transaction and of US$3,020 (RMB20,000) on purchase by a single person per year. It also released a list (termed as a ‘positive list’) of 1,293 products that were allowed to enter the Chinese market through CBEC. While the goods under the ‘positive list’ are exempted from submitting an import license to customs, few products from this list that come under China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), such as cosmetics, infant formula, medical devices, health supplements, etc., require registration before import. This entails the same tedious registration or filing requirements required for products imported through the traditional trade channels. This greatly limits the inherent benefits of the CBEC model for these products.

While the government had initially intended and aimed for immediate implementation of these new regulations, protests and pressure from Chinese e-commerce companies and the ultimate objective of promoting the country’s e-commerce sector resulted in the government agreeing to a one-year transitional phase for these rules (which was to end in 2017). However, in September 2017, the government decided to extend the transitional period until the end of 2018 and to set up new trade zones for CBEC, reinforcing its support for the cross-border e-commerce sector. While changes in the regulation do seem to be a certainty in the future, the timeline for their introduction remains ambiguous as several industry analysts anticipate that they may get pushed off again.

Cross Border e-com in China

EOS Perspective

The cross-border e-commerce sector in China has been witnessing exponential growth and despite the looming new regulations, is expected to continue to grow at least over the next five years. While leading e-commerce companies in China (such as Alibaba group and JD group) have acted swiftly to benefit from this growing space, the greatest benefit has been for the foreign players who now have an easy access to Chinese consumers without the need of setting up a shop in the country. However, these benefits may be short-lived considering the new set of regulations. Few product categories such as infant formula, cosmetics, and health supplements (which have in actuality been the most popular categories for CBEC) will be subject to registration and filing requirements, thereby their so-called ‘honeymoon phase’ in the country is likely to end. Although a lot of products do not have to comply with registration/filing requirements and are only subject to a marginal increase in taxes (as per the new rules), this does not guarantee that future regulations will not impact their presence and sales in China. Therefore, while CBEC may be the smartest way for companies to test their products with limited investment in China, they may need a back-up plan in case the government further regularizes the industry to create a level-playing field for the traditional retail.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Infographic: Wine Industry Expects Healthy Growth in the Midst of Intense Competition and Demand Shifting Eastward

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Winemakers across the globe are not having an easy year. Global wine production is expected to hit a six-decade low in 2017, caused mostly by unfavorable weather conditions (frost and droughts in key European wine producing countries – Italy, France, and Spain, as well as severe fires in California). Even without the weather throwing roadblocks under winemakers’ feet, their line of business is not an easy one, challenged by tough competition, high import tariffs, and shifts in consumer demand. Wine market dynamics are changing, with several emerging trends that affect the way winemakers operate and the focus markets they increasingly cater to.

Global Wine Market

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

NAFTA 2.0 – Mexico Left with Little Choice but to Renegotiate, and Fast

Over the years, NAFTA has been one of the most contentious FTAs that have ever been inked, especially for the USA. While the treaty and its merits (or mostly alleged lack of them) featured in political campaigns of a few previous US presidential candidates, NAFTA’s shape and scope have never been revisited in its many years of existence – until now. Mexico, along with Canada, wishes to maintain the NAFTA as is, however US president Donald Trump has strongly condemned the treaty and, though earlier threatened to walk away from it completely, has agreed to attempt a renegotiation. Any possible changes to the shape of NAFTA might have profound impact especially on Mexico, however, the country has little choice but to renegotiate. Some of the negotiation objectives, such as tougher ‘rules of origin’, can be greatly damaging to Mexico’s several sectors, including the automobile industry. The upcoming elections in Mexico in July 2018 may further complicate matters – if the renegotiations are not completed by then (which is a highly probable scenario), they may be brought to a standstill, especially if the government changes. This presents a great deal of uncertainty for companies that have investments in Mexico.

The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into force in 1994, removed trade tariffs and duties on most goods for trade between the USA, Mexico, and Canada. While the deal has been mostly considered a positive in Mexico and Canada, its benefits have often been debated in the USA. The main reason behind this remains the high US trade deficit with Mexico (which stood at around US$64 billion in 2016) and the loss of several US manufacturing jobs to the south of the US border.

The NAFTA issue also found itself at the center of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, as he called the treaty one of the worst trade deals ever signed by the USA and talked about withdrawing from it once he came to power. Although several previous presidential campaigns also involved talks of renegotiating NAFTA (including campaigns of both Democratic candidates – Barrack Obama and Hilary Clinton, in 2008), none has been as strong-worded as Trump’s campaign. Therefore, with Trump coming to power in 2016, revisiting the 23-year old treaty became largely inevitable.

Chapter 19

Initially threatening to back out from NAFTA, Trump agreed to renegotiations, which according to him would ensure bringing jobs back to the USA. However, a few aspects on the renegotiation agenda are a hard line for Mexico. Firstly, the USA wishes to eliminate Chapter 19 of the treaty, which encompasses a dispute settlement mechanism wherein dispute resolution (in cases such as anti-dumping and countervailing duty disagreements) is undertaken by independent and binational panels instead of domestic courts. This prevents NAFTA countries from putting unfair duties on products from other NAFTA countries to protect their own industries. While the USA is trying to disregard this clause, Mexico is largely opposing it, as without Chapter 19, it would become much easier for the USA to implement protectionist policies and duties that would inherently threaten free trade. However, Mexico is not alone in pushing back this change as Canada also strongly opposes any change in the dispute settlement mechanism.

Impact of NAFTA on Mexico

NAFTA Minimum Wage

Another negotiation objective (where Canada stands in support of the USA), is to incorporate some kind of standardization for trade-related labor issues and wages, by introducing a minimum wage across the three NAFTA participants. This will be greatly damaging for Mexico, which has for long benefited from lower wage rates that have incentivized several industries, such as automobiles, to shift base to Mexico to reduce costs and maximize profits. Stating that wage-related policies are an internal matter, Mexico has strongly opposed any such amendments and may make this a non-negotiable aspect.

Rules of Origin

However, one of the most dampening renegotiation objectives, especially for Mexico and in particular for its the automobile industry, are the restrictive changes to the rules of origin. As per the current NAFTA rules, for a car to qualify for a tariff-free entry in the NAFTA region, 62.5% of the value of the car must have originated in NAFTA countries. Thus, over the years, automobile manufactures have perfected their value chains, wherein auto components such as body-works, engines, gear panels, etc., are manufactured in various parts of NAFTA countries, and then assembled in another part of the region, to attain greatest benefits in terms of costs and quality. However, the current US administration is proposing changes to these rules, which may wash away a great deal of efficiencies and synergies attained by global automobile manufacturers under the current rules. As per the proposal, the US government aims to increase the US content in the finished vehicles to 50% for these products to attain tariff-free entry into the USA. In addition to going against the basic fabric of a free-trade agreement, this will jeopardize the competitiveness of the North American auto industry, which has greatly depended on integrated supply chains that also have deep roots in Mexico. This definitely spells bad news for Mexico, as the economy has significantly benefited from investments made by global automobile manufacturers in the country.

Moreover, apart from increasing the share of US content requirement to 50%, the US administration has also proposed raising the regional content requirement for NAFTA to 85% as against the current 62.5%. While this may seem to be a positive amendment for the region in general, analysts call it largely counter-productive as not all components can be competitively sourced from the North American region. If brought into action, automobile companies would have to spend huge sums to try to source/produce most components in the North American region at competitive prices. However, if they fail to accomplish that (which is quite likely) and as a result are unsuccessful in qualifying for tariff-free entry into NAFTA, they would shift to suppliers outside NAFTA and pay WTO tariff of 2.5% to access the North American market (which they will pass onto the consumers). Such developments might mean that by increasing regional content requirements, the region may end up pushing automobile players away from the region rather than encouraging them to continue and intensify their operations. This will be catastrophic not only for the Mexican automobile sector, but also for the US and Canadian auto market. To make matters tougher, the new proposal asks for technology-based automotive parts, electric vehicle batteries, etc., that are currently not included in the origin tracing list (as they did not exist when the NAFTA was originally negotiated). Most of these products are now sourced from Asian markets.

Due to the US president’s known cold sentiment towards NAFTA, the onus of ensuring the treaty remains unterminated is on Mexico and Canada. While Mexico (along with Canada) has previously mentioned that the American demands to change the rules of origin are unworkable with and unacceptable, the Mexican government is working on a compromise proposal to toughen the rules of origin clause in hope to meet the USA somewhere half-way. As per the proposal, Mexico is willing to accept the extensive tracing list and is also willing to negotiate on the 85% North American content requirement in exchange for the USA withdrawing from the 50% US content provision. The tracing list proposal will be drawn in a manner ensuring that low-cost technology-based components that are currently sourced from Asian countries would be sourced from within North America, especially Mexico. However, the proposal, which is not finalized yet, is not expected to be presented in the current (fifth) round of talks.

Sunset Clause

Mexico and Canada’s openness to negotiate can also be gauged by their willingness to work around the sunset clause proposed by the US administration during the fourth round of negotiations. As per the proposed clause, the treaty will expire every five years unless the member countries agree to keep it in place. While the remaining two parties refused to accept this clause when proposed, they have softened their stance on the matter during the current negotiations and counter-proposed a five-yearly review system. This showcases Mexico and Canada’s keen desire to ensure NAFTA is preserved and their willingness to work around USA’s fixed stance. While the review proposal may be a better option compared with the sunset clause, purely from a business or investment point of view, it still leaves room for a great amount of uncertainty for companies looking to invest, as five-year horizon is too short for several heavy-investment industries such as automobiles.

2018 Mexican Elections

Lastly, it is extremely critical that the negotiations are completed by the set date of March 2018 as any delay will result in their overlap with the 2018 Mexican elections and that will further complicate the matters. NAFTA has not only been instrumental in providing Mexico with economic stability, but has also played a significant political role, especially in terms of economic policy. The basic framework of the treaty has ensured protection for investments and, to an extent, economic equity as over the years it restricted the government from granting protections, incentives, and subsidies to a set of companies or industries, while discriminating against others. The termination of NAFTA would allow the future government to modify the current economic framework of the country, and this will directly impact Mexico’s attractiveness as an investment destination. This becomes all the more relevant in case the leftist candidate, Lopez Obrador, comes to power in 2018.

Mexico’s Contingency Plans

While Mexico is certainly hopeful and is working towards retaining the NAFTA, it is not putting all its eggs in that one basket alone. Mexican government is looking at deepening Mexico’s ties globally and reducing its dependence on the USA. Mexico is currently negotiating with the EU to modernize its existing FTA which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. Moreover, it is looking at Argentina and Brazil as alternative sources of agricultural imports to replace those from the USA. In a similar move, Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, met with his Russian counterpart in Mexico to discuss Mexico’s openness to do business with nations other than the USA. In November 2017, Mexico participated in a meeting of the nations that were formerly a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which ceased to exist in its previous form in early 2017 (we talked about it in our article TPP 2.0 – Minus the USA in May 2017). This meeting resulted in an official announcement that the TPP nations will negotiate a new deal, without the USA, and that it will be called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The creation of CPTPP will provide a much-needed cushion to Mexico’s automobile industry in case NAFTA fails. Also, in case NAFTA toughens its rules of origin but the CPTPP relaxes them, Mexico may continue to be part of the global automobile supply chain (this time in combination with CPTPP members such as Japan, Canada, and Chile – instead of the USA).

EOS Perspective

It is safe to say that Mexico and its automobile industry have a lot riding on the NAFTA negotiations. While Mexico along with Canada are working hard to ensure NAFTA stays, US president’s tough stand on several aspects and his willingness to walk out of the deal in case his demands are not met, complicate the negotiations greatly. It is uncertain how the situation is going to develop, and even if NAFTA continues, new provisions that might find their way into the revised treaty may not offer a great deal of benefits for companies to invest and for intra-regional trade to flourish.

The pressure of upcoming elections in Mexico in 2018 makes the situation even tighter. If the negotiations are not completed before the elections, all progress made up till then can easily go in vain in the event of the government change. Therefore, companies are extremely cautious about investing/expanding in Mexico at the moment, and are likely to wait at least up till mid-next year. They may find respite in the fact that the Mexican government is trying to do its best – both in terms of being flexible during negotiations as well as diversifying its export markets and import sources – but this respite might just not be enough to ease investors’ minds and businesses’ worries over the operating and trade environment within the North American region.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

USA-China Solar Dispute – Will Sanctions Really Aid the US Solar Market?

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Trade disputes are not a rare sight in the current competitive era. Especially the USA and China have a history of such disputes in last couple of decades and both have locked horns again, this time over solar equipment trade. Chinese manufacturers are being accused of unfair trade practices as they sell solar modules at a considerably lower prices than producers from other countries, using government subsidies to finance their operations and to create a glut of imports. In response to such a practice, American manufactures filed a petition with US International Trade Commission (USITC) seeking steep tariffs and a floor price for the Chinese solar imports. The commission voted on the merits of the petition in late September 2017, and decided that there has indeed been a considerable damage to the US manufacturers. The USITC’s recommendations for sanctions will be sent to the White House to decide the course of action in the following month. If sanctions are introduced, will the US producers be the ultimate winner after the final verdict in November?

The solar power generation technology was invented in the USA which have dominated the solar industry for last three decades of 20th century. The global solar industry is now a US$100 billion market, a fact that leads to a large number of players being interested in grabbing their share of this mammoth opportunity. As solar energy is considered clean and renewable, countries suffering from high pollution levels increasingly demand efficient and cheap solar energy generation equipment.

This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market. With China rising as a manufacturer of cheaper solar equipment since 2011, it has become increasingly difficult for other players to compete with China, and many producers, especially in the USA, are not very pleased with that.

This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market.

This is not the first solar battle between the USA and China. The countries were in a solar dispute back in 2011 when the USA hit China with 25-70% tariffs on solar module exports. It was due to a trade complaint filed by SolarWorld Americas along with six other US manufacturers about unethical trade practices undertaken by their Chinese counterparts. And now, Suniva, a Georgia-based solar cell and module manufacturer, filed a Safeguard Petition with the USITC in April 2017, just one week after it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The USITC, in its unanimous vote, agreed that the US companies suffered injury from cheap imports. Following these developments, the markets are waiting for the president Trump’s decision over the case in November, and if the White House follows with sanctions and remedies, this might be the beginning of a significant wave of changes in the solar equipment market.

China has not always been the market leader for solar products. Way back in 1990s, when Germany could not meet its rising domestic demand for solar equipment, it started working with Chinese players to manufacture the equipment for German market. Germany did not only provide the capital and technology but also some of their solar energy experts to those Chinese manufacturers.

The high demand was a result of German government’s incentive program to use the rooftop solar panels. Needless to say, those Chinese players happily accepted the opportunity. Further they got lured with the rising demand for solar equipment in other European countries such as Spain and Italy, where similar incentive programs started to be rolled out. The Chinese producers started hiring experts and expanding their capacities to tap the surge in demand.

With rising pollution levels and global demand for cleaner energy, solar industry became an attractive opportunity for China, and this resulted in the government’s willingness to invest as much as US$47 billion to develop China’s solar industry. With the beginning of 21st century, China started inviting foreign companies to set up plants in the country and take benefit of its cheap labor.

The Chinese government also introduced loans and tax incentives for renewable energy equipment manufacturers. By 2010, the solar equipment production in China increased at such levels that there were almost two panels made for every one demanded by an importer. In 2011, China took the German route and started incentivizing domestic rooftop solar installations, which rocketed the domestic demand so much that it surpassed Germany’s in 2015 to become the largest globally. China deployed 20 GW capacity in the first half of 2016, whereas the entire US capacity at that time was 31 GW.

The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment, be it through subsidies for the purchase of the land for factories or through lower interest loans from banks. These moves and gigantic Chinese production capacities drove the global solar panel prices down by 80% from 2008 to 2013, which further increased China’s exports as its prices were the lowest.

Before 2009, the USA used to import very little from China in the solar domain and by the end of 2013, the Chinese imports rose to over 49% of total solar panels deployed in the USA. This increase in the imports resulted in 26 US solar manufacturers filing for bankruptcy in 2011, one of which was SolarWorld which also filed a trade complaint. The situation was not very different in several European countries.

The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment.

China was accused of unfair trading and dumping exports below market prices which led the Obama government and EU to imposing import duties of 25-70% on Chinese solar products in 2011 for the following four years. In return, in 2012 China threatened to impose tariffs on US imports of polysilicon used in solar cells, and actually announced tariffs of 53.5% to 57% in 2013. Also, finding loopholes in the tariff system imposed by the Americans, Chinese manufacturers set up facilities in countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam, as the tariffs were not applicable for imports from those countries. The US imports of Chinese solar products continued.

The current Suniva’s case has received a mixed support within the US solar industry. While the US solar installers, for obvious reasons, will not support the case, some of the well-known manufacturers in the country have also stood up against it. They think the tariffs will almost double the prices of solar equipment in the USA which will eventually lower the demand of their products as well.

Following the USITC vote agreeing with Suniva’s petition, the industry is awaiting the final decision on the extent of the recommended tariffs and remedies, which are expected to affect jobs, innovation, and growth of the solar industry in various ways.

Impact of tariff decision on jobs in solar industry

Out of the total 260,000 US solar jobs, installers accounted for more than 80%, and around 38,000 people were working in manufacturing in 2016, a 26% increase over 2015. As the prices of solar panels dropped to around US$0.4/watt in 2016 from US$0.57/watt in 2015 thanks to the availability of cheap Chinese imports, solar installations boomed in the USA.

Manufacturers and experts supporting the Suniva case (supporters) argue that if the suggested tariffs of US$0.4/watt on imported cells and a minimum price of US$0.78/watt on panels are implemented, it will help the domestic manufacturing and around 114,800 new jobs will be created. The installers and some manufacturers opposing the case (adversaries) say that the tariffs on import will hurt everyone including the manufacturing sector. If the prices increase, this will cause the demand to go down which is likely to affect around 88,000 jobs in the US solar industry.

A group of 27 US solar equipment manufacturers including companies such as PanelClaw, Aerocompact, IronRidge, SMASHsolar, Pegasus Solar, on behalf of their combined 5,700 employees, wrote a letter to trade commissioners not to impose new import tariffs. With Chinese solar imports as high as 49% of the total US requirement, increased prices are expected to affect thousands of jobs in the solar installation sector which is the primary sub-sector of solar industry.

However, if the Chinese imports continue at the current rate, the demand for solar equipment will eventually decrease. Over long term, the manufacturers will have to lower their production and installers will have no new clients. So, the economy of scale effect will not work after that and that might affect the US solar jobs.

Impact of tariff decision on innovation in solar industry

The one factor that genuinely seems affected with the rise of China in the solar industry is innovation. Being the pioneers of the solar power generation technology, Americans are undoubtedly good at innovation. However, with dozens of US companies being on the verge of bankruptcy and lowering sales for remaining manufacturers because of glut of cheaper Chinese imports, the innovation budgets have seen a large blow in the country.

China is still producing the first generation, traditional solar modules and doing little, if anything at all, to improve the efficiency of the existing products. Chinese are not known for investing much in R&D departments and top seven Chinese solar manufacturers invested a mere 1.25% of total sales in R&D in 2015. Compared with what electronics firms invested in 2015 towards R&D, this number is six times lower. Compared with US clean energy firms, Chinese firms patent 72% less.

However, the US innovation receives targeted help and support from the government, which is not the case for Chinese innovation. US Department of Energy has come up with a loan program of US$32 billion to help clean energy companies innovate efficient solar products while still being price competitive with Chinese products. Nonetheless, US innovations are expected to dry up if the Chinese solar equipment dumping continues.

US-China Solar Dispute

Impact of tariff decision on solar industry growth

Growth of the solar industry should probably be the prime factor to consider for the Trade Commission and the White House while deciding about the potential introduction of solar tariffs.

As of 2016, US solar industry is worth roughly around US$23 billion. Moreover, solar energy accounted for 40% of new generation in the US power grid and 10% of total renewable energy generated in the USA in 2016, while the recent cost declines have led American utilities to procure more solar energy. This energy has witnessed 68% of average annual growth rate in terms of new generation capacity in the USA in last decade and as of first half of 2017, over 47 GW of solar capacity is installed to power 9.1 million American houses. There are currently about 9,000 solar companies in the USA employing around 260,000 people. In 2016, solar power generation was at 0.9% of total US power generation, a share that is expected to grow to more than 3% in 2020 and hit 5% in 2022.

The Suniva case supporters believe that this growth can slow down once the solar equipment demand is satisfied through Chinese imports, which is likely to eventually lead to job cuts and no innovation that in turn will put a break on any further growth in the US sector. They also argue that the solar equipment manufacturing sector in the USA will be destroyed if the right steps are not taken to safeguard the manufacturers from cheaper imports.

After the tariffs are introduced, for some time, the prices will be parallel for locally manufactured as well as imported solar products. Later on, with innovation and competitiveness between the domestic manufacturers coming back (currently absent from US solar market), the prices are expected to go down as per the allies.

At the same time, the Suniva case adversaries believe that the dream run for solar industry’s growth in the USA should not be hindered by imposing tariffs on imports as it will jeopardize even up to half of all solar installations expected to be demanded by 2022. In case of US$0.78/watt minimum module price scenario, US solar equipment installation is expected to fall from 72.5 GW to 36.4 GW between 2018 and 2022 or to 25 GW in case of US$1.18/watt minimum price scenario.

Solar energy is believed to be price sensitive and if the government aims to motivate the clean energy development, the origin of equipment used for this development should not matter. Some of the US solar equipment manufacturers are even opposing the tariffs which means they think there is still potential in the domestic manufacturing industry and with innovation they can gradually increase their share in the market.

EOS Perspective

The US government will have to take a responsible decision on the trade tariffs. The issue looks very sensitive and can directly affect the growth of the US energy sector. A win-win situation seems impossible if the tariffs are levied, and in its deliberations the government should consider the effects of the past US tariffs imposed on Chinese products. When the USA took anti-dumping steps against Chinese steel, China fired back with tariffs on caprolactam, a textile material. China re-imposed duties on US broiler chickens, after the USA announced duties on Chinese tires in June 2015.

So, none of the trade wars have proved to be beneficial for either of the sides. In the current dispute, the stakes are also high, and the wrong decision might have repercussions in a range of sectors. For instance, China placed a US$38 billion order to Boeing for commercial aircraft in 2015, an order that has not been delivered yet. This aspect should be kept in mind by the USA.

China currently dominates solar products supply with 80% of global solar equipment manufacturing capacity. The USA need to understand that their role in the global solar market is decreasing, and is no longer what it used to be. It would be beneficial for the USA to focus on strengthening the role in innovation of solar technology rather than looking to be the leading solar equipment manufacturer by volume.

Even if the US government supports the manufacturers by slapping tariffs on imports, the country is not ready with the required infrastructure for solar generation equipment manufacturing to satisfy the domestic demand in absence of the imports from other countries. Solar equipment producers cannot instantly set up infrastructure to manufacture a number of solar products, such as solar cells, junction boxes, extruded aluminum, glass, etc., that too in a cost-effective model. President Trump’s support for reviving local manufacturing, while at the same time favoring fossil fuels over the green energy (also manifested through his withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord), makes the outcome of the case uncertain, and interesting to follow.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Future of Global Solar Power Industry – Tense, But There’s Still Hope.

The global solar power industry was always viewed as one based on flawed business principle of artificial sustenance. With prolonged low economic growth, the artificial support base disintegrated, resulting in shutdown of multi-million dollar business across the globe.

Several leading players, such as Siemens, Solar Millennium, First Solar Inc, and SunPower Corp and Suntech Power, have either filed for bankruptcy or pulled out of their loss-making solar power businesses. Others, such as Germany-based Bosch, have decided to wrap-up solar operations at the end of 2013 after having “tried unsuccessfully to achieve a competitive position”.

A 60% fall in solar panel prices between 2010 and early 2013, as well as the rapid expansion of natural gas production in the USA and curtailment of subsidies in the EU were some of the key reasons for growing losses. What is also worth noting is the overcapacity in the market – global production capacity for photovoltaic panels reached about 60 GW in 2012, while expected demand was only 30 GW. Driven by such unsustainable market conditions, no wonder solar power companies went out of business.

Industry experts, however, view the above factors as simply the result of China’s growing dominance in the global solar power industry. Driven by government subsidies, China became the largest solar panel supplier, accounting for 60% of global solar power production capacity. This domination of the industry has, however, come at a price. Amidst growing unhappiness with China-made products leading to local companies becoming uncompetitive, USA imposed a 40% anti-dumping duty in 2012 while in May 2013 the EU imposed provisional duties of 12% (likely to increase to 47% in August) on imports of Chinese-made solar panels. Whether this will deter China or encourage local growth is unknown; this might however have a negative effect of pushing the industry further into crisis.

Beneficiary of the present situation are likely to be manufacturers in countries like Taiwan which are not yet subject to US/EU import tariffs. About 90% of solar cells manufactured in Taiwan are exported to the USA, Europe, and China. Taiwan might also benefit from the EU’s imposition of duties on China made products, driving Chinese investment into Taiwan for setting up manufacturing plants to then directly export to the EU from Taiwan without having to pay the duties. Recent activities of some Chinese companies have indicated Turkey and South Africa being possible destinations for setting up manufacturing units.

The Chinese will find ways to get their products into the US and EU markets, even if it means moving their operations to Taiwan or other countries which are not subject to the high duties. The real issue, however, is the state of the global solar industry – with some of the major players shutting down operations and funding of solar power depleting, is the end of the road? We doubt it.

There is still hope for the solar power industry, largely driven by favorable policy measures in emerging Asian and Latin American countries. The first half of 2013 witnessed solar power investments in several countries, including Kuwait, South Africa and Chile. The industry received a major boost from Middle-East when Saudi Arabia announced a US$100 billion investment plan in 2012, to generate one-third of the country’s electricity demand through solar energy. Although current demand in these emerging markets is relatively low and may take about 10-15 years to develop into a sizeable market, the scope for growth is immense.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Mexico – The Next Automotive Production Powerhouse?

As the first of our five part automotive market assessment of the MIST countries – Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Mexico as an emerging automotive hub, and the underlying potential in this strategically located gateway to both North and South America.

Emergence of Mexico as a major automotive production hub is the result of a series of events and transformations over the past decade. The most important of which is the growing trend among automotive OEMs and auto part producers to have production bases in emerging economies. And the earthquake in Japan in 2011 tilted the tide in favour of Mexico just as ‘near-shoring’ was already becoming a key automotive strategy in 2011.

Automotive production in Mexico increased by 80% from 1.5 million in 1999 to 2.7 million units per year in 2011, largely thanks to a significant boost in investment in the sector.

Between 2005 and 2011, cumulative foreign direct investment (FDI) in the automotive sector amounted to USD10.3 billion. In the last year, several automotive OEMs have initiated large scale projects in Mexico; some of these projects include

  • Nissan – building a USD2 billion plant in Aguascalientes; this was the single largest investment in the country in 2012 and should help secure the country’s position as the eighth largest car manufacturer and sixth largest car exporter in the world

  • Ford – investing USD1.3 billion in a new stamping and assembly plant in Hermosillo, New Mexico

  • Honda – investing USD800 million in a new production plant in Celaya, Guanajuato

  • GM – investing USD420 million at plants in Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi

  • Daimler Trucks – investing USD300 million in a new plant to manufacture new heavy trucks’ transmissions

  • Audi – has decided to set-up its first production facility across the Atlantic in Mexico; with planned investment outlay of about USD2 billion, this move by Audi represents a significant show of trust by one of the world’s leading premium car brands

  • Mazda – building a USD500 million plant in Guanajuato; it has reached an agreement to build a Toyota-branded sub-compact car at this facility and will supply Toyota with 50,000 units of the vehicle annually once production begins in mid-2015

Bolstered by this new wave of investment, Mexico’s vehicle production capacity is expected to rise to 3.83 million units by 2017, at an impressive CAGR of 6% during 2011-2017.

Why is Mexico attracting such large levels of investment from global automotive OEMs? Which factors have positively influenced these decisions and what concerns other OEMs have in investing in this North American country?

So, What Makes Mexico A Favourable Destination?

  1. Trade Agreements – Mexico has Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with about 44 countries that provide preferential access to markets across three continents, covering North America and parts of South America and Europe. Mexico has more FTAs than the US. The FTA with the EU, for instance, saves Mexico a 10% tariff that’s applied to US-built vehicles, thereby providing OEMs with an incentive to shift production from the US to Mexico.

  2. Geographic Access – Mexico provides easy geographical access to the US and Latin American markets, thereby providing savings through reduced inventory as well as lower transportation and logistics costs. This is evident from the fact that auto exports grew by 12% in the first ten months of 2012 to a record 1.98 million units; the US accounted for 63% of these exports, while Latin America and Europe accounted for 16% and 9%, respectively (Source – Mexican Automobile Industry Association).

  3. Established Manufacturing Hub – 19 of the world’s major manufacturing companies, such as Siemens, GE, Samsung, LG and Whirlpool, have assembly plants in Mexico; additionally, over 300 major Tier-1 global suppliers have presence in the country, with a well-structured value chain organized in dynamic and competitive clusters.

The Challenges

  1. Heavy Dependence on USA – While it is good that Mexico has established strong relations with American OEMs, it cannot ignore the fact that with more than 60% share of its exports, the country is heavily dependent on the US. The country needs to grow its export markets to other countries and geographies to hedge against a downturn in the American economy. For instance, during the downturn in the US economy in 2008 and 2009, due to decline in sales in the US, automotive production in Mexico declined by 20% from 2.17 million in 2008 to 1.56 million in 2009. Mexico has trade agreements with 44 countries (more than the USA and double that of China) and it needs to leverage these better to promote itself as an attractive export platform for automotives.

  2. Regional Politics – Mexico is walking a tight rope when it comes to protecting the interests of OEMs producing vehicles in the country. In 2011, Mexican automotive exports caused widespread damage to the automotive industries in Brazil and Argentina and in a bid to save their domestic markets, both the countries briefly banned Mexican auto imports altogether in 2012. Although, later in the year, Mexico thrashed out a deal that restricts automotive imports (without tariffs) to its two South American neighbours rather than completely banning them, it does not augur well for the future prospects of automotive production in Mexico. One of the reasons automotive OEMs were expanding their capacity in the country was to be able to cater to the important markets in Latin America, particularly Brazil and Argentina. Now the Mexican government has the challenge of trying to keep everyone happy – its neighbours, the automotive OEMs and most importantly its own people for whom it might mean loss of jobs and income.

  3. Stringent Regulatory Environment – The Mexican government, the Mexican Auto Industry Association and International Automotive OEMs are locked in a tussle over the government’s attempts to implement fuel efficiency rules to curb carbon emissions. Mexico has an ambitious target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020, and 50% by 2050. The regulations are similar to the ones being implemented in the USA and Canada, however, the association has complained that the proposal is stricter than the US version. Toyota went as far as filing a legal appeal against the government protesting the proposed fuel economy standard. Although the government eased the regulations to appease the automotive OEMs in January 2013, the controversy highlights resistance by the country’s manufacturing sector to the low-carbon regulations the government has been trying to introduce over the past few years. Such issues send out wrong signals to potential investors.

So, does Mexico provide an attractive platform for automotive OEMs? From the spate of investments in the country so far, it seems so – over the past few years, the country has finally begun to fulfil that potential and is now a key driver in the ‘spreading production across emerging economies’ strategy of companies looking to make it big in the global automotive market. However, there are still a few concerns that need to be addressed in order for Mexico to become ‘the’ automotive manufacturing hub in the Americas.

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In our next discussion, we will assess the opportunities and challenges faced by both established and emerging automotive OEMs in Indonesia. Does Indonesia continue to be one of the key emerging markets of interest for automotive OEMs or do the challenges outweigh the opportunities?

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