WTO Defers Chinese Case to 2011
European Union,Mexico and USA had filed a case with WTO in 2009 over the Chinese monopoly and trade resticitions of rare earth minerals.However WTO has failed to resolve the issue despite a time limit of 6 months.The WTO Panel has defered the WTO case to April 2011 without assigning a reason.WTO is more of a negotiatino forum rather than a body which can punish violators .To expect WTO to make China increase it export quota of rare earth minerals is like living in a fool’s paradise.Trade Tensions between China and other world trade powers is already very high.Currency and Global Imbalances are already major issues which threaten to derail the world economic recovery (however faint it maybe).Rare Earth Minerals are proving to be another big thorn in trade relations between China and the West.
Solar Frontier is a subsidiary of Showa Shell Sekiyu and is listed on the Japanese Stock Exchange.The Company has big plans for the Solar Energy Market planning to increase its capacity by more than 10 times in 2011 to around 1 Gw in total.All its 3 plants are located in Miyazaki in Japan and uses previous plasma plant of Hitachi.Solar Frontier claims 11.5% efficiency for its CIS modules which are expected to go upto 14% by 2014.The Company is spending around $1 Billion in Capex for building the 1 GW capacity implying roughly $1 capex/watt which is not exactly cheap though not very expensive either.Note Thin Film Competition is hotting up with Saint Gobain-Hyundai,TSMC,Miasole,Oerlikon Solar,Sharp,Nanosolar all making plans for huge capacity expansion in the next couple of years.Solar Frontier has signed some small deals for supplying 1-3 MW in Thailand,Japan and Australia Recently.However the cost structure of the company is not known till now just like Sharp.While Solar Frontier looks good on the capacity and partnerships front,it has still to prove itself on costs to really push the Chinese Solar Companies which are dominating the Solar Scene right now with their low cost polysilicon panel production.Note 60% of the Solar Panel Production in Q210 was estimated to be done by Chinese based manufacturers.
While Section 301 was a powerful, unilateral U.S. trade policy weapon prior to the establishment of the WTO dispute settlement process, since 1995 it has rarely been invoked and has not produced any sanctions or WTO cases. In a post-WTO world, therefore, the USW petition could be said to be unprecedented. It is the first to be accepted by USTR that, if proven, would, invalidate for WTO purposes what amounts to a national industrial policy. It would seriously undermine the validity of China’s efforts to create “national champions” in certain sectors, to focus on building domestic capacity to address its environmental and energy challenges, and to be a significant, and possibly the dominant, global player in green technologies. Beyond the impact on China, a successful U.S. challenge in the WTO would inevitably chill similar efforts in other countries to use the Chinese industrial development template in other sectors. All of these effects are above and beyond the question of the immediate fall-out that could result if China declines to implement an adverse WTO finding and the U.S. compensation and retaliation is authorized.
South Korea has said that it would reduce its dependence on China for rare earth minerals.The Country has reduced imports of Rare Earth Minerals from 7398 tons in 2005 to 2655 tons in 2009.Note most of the reduction came after South Korean Chaebols Samsung and LG shifted their production from CRTs to LCD and Plasma Display Panels.The country now imports 65% of its REE requirements from China and most of the rest from Japan.The country plans to increase cooperation with traditional ally USA and Japan to meet future demand for these commodities.However I have my doubt whether South Korea can reduce its dependence.South Korea has embarked on a major Green Stimulus which is the biggest as a percentage amongst Developed Countries.This is going to mean increased demand for rare earth minerals which are essential for Magnets in Wind Turbines and Batteries and Catalytic Converters for Electric Vehicles.Japan is already planning huge investments into developing alternate supply sources,perhaps South Korea needs to show that urgency as well
The HPUC has given a FIT rate which is quite low for solar energy and has failed to implement a policy for installations between 500-5000 KW.Also the FIT rates for Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) does not make sense at all for under 500 KW installations.Don’t think there exists a single decent producer of such small CSP plants.The FIT Policy was passed despite stiff opposition from the island’s utilities who questioned the Feed in Tariff as a good Green Incentive.The huge success enjoyed in Europe by FIT did not make a big impression.Note 80% of the world’s solar installations depend on Feed in Tariffs.While there have been bad implementation cases of FIT in Spain and Czech,there have been huge successes in other countries like Germany and UK.HPUC rightly decided to go ahead as trial and errors would be needed . It won’t lead to a huge boom in solar in Hawai due to poor returns however it should lead to some boost to existing solar producers or those who were going to install solar anyway.
Food Prices are rising at an incredible pace around the world due to a combination of money printing by the USA and Bad Weather in Russia and Asia.The major cause of the Food Price Increase has been the global rush towards investing in commodities as currencies get devalued by countries eager to increase exports in a zero sum game.Wheat Prices were the first to rise after Russia stopped exports leading to the sharpest gain in the last 2 years.Corn prices have increased with increased demand from ethanol,bad harvests and relentless QE.Rice and Soybean prices were bound to rise in empathy with other grain prices.Note these two food varieties are substitutes of corn and wheat.So it makes sense for speculators and consumers to increase the demand for these 2 commodities as well.
Rice Price Increase after Flooding in Biggest Exporters
Rice Prices have shown a record increase after floods sharply reduced output in the 2 main exporter Vietnam and Thailand.With inventories being sharply cut and harvests going down it is not much of a surprise.Rice importing countries like Philippines will be badly hit as their per capita income is quite low and they have a large poor population highly sensitive to increasing food prices.Expect 2011 to be a Hunger Year for a large chunk of the world’s population thanks to Ben Bernake and print his way to prosperity team.