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Jump in imports of Thai silicon stirs questions

Keywords: Tags  silicon, Thailand shipments, China shipments, anti-dumping duties, U.S. imports, International Trade Commission, Globe Specialty Metals, Suzy Waite

NEW YORK — The recent surge in U.S. silicon imports from Thailand has sparked questions on the material’s origin, with traders claiming it could be Chinese material that is being rebagged to avoid anti-dumping duties rather than solely due to increased Thai production.

Imports from Thailand, not a typical supplier to the U.S. market, more than tripled in January to 1,813 tonnes from 520 tonnes in December after zero shipments were logged in the preceding two months, according to data from the International Trade Commission.

Based on ITC data, it marks the highest import level from the country in at least 12 years.

The jump in imports, coupled with excess domestic supply, has led U.S. free-market silicon prices to drop an average of 4.1 percent over the past two weeks to $1.28 to $1.32 per pound from $1.34 to $1.37 previously (AMM, April 3) and nearly 12 percent below the early January range of $1.45 to $1.50 per pound.

Most participants are skeptical that all of the Thai silicon entering the U.S. market is, in fact, made in Thailand. Many say they believe a significant chunk of the material is Chinese metal rebagged in Thailand to avoid anti-dumping duties against Chinese product, which range from 3.3 percent to 139.49 percent, an ITC spokesman said.

"It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if that were the case," one trader told AMM.

If the material being imported from Thailand is made in China, sources say domestic producer Globe Specialty Metals Inc. won’t wait long to step in.

"If there’s any indication that (the material) is something other than metal produced in Thailand, I’m sure (Globe) will address it," the trader said.

"That will be an interesting conversation (for Globe) when that comes up," another industry source agreed.

But sources cited other factors contributing to the drop in prices, specifically the fact that New York-based Globe is running flat out after completing some routine maintenance work on silicon plants that were shut down late last year. Market participants felt at the time that it was more of an effort to boost prices (AMM, Oct. 21).

Globe did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, imports from Thailand peaked in August at 1,530 tonnes, with all remaining months ranging from 360 tonnes to 990 tonnes, the ITC data show.

"It seems like (Thailand) has one big month and then backs off so nobody pays attention to it," the industry source said. "But it definitely doesn’t help (prices). That’s a lot of metal. Silicon is such a small, specialized industry, so 1,800 tonnes is important. If you’re someone like Globe, that’s a furnace and a half."

Similiarly, imports from Thailand were recorded in just six months of 2010—peaking in June at 1,080 tonnes while the other months ranged between 180 and 742 tonnes. Zero imports were recorded in the remaining six months of 2010.

Prior to that, ITC recorded no imports from Thailand since at least 2000.

While imports from traditional suppliers such as Brazil continue to hit U.S. shores—in January, 4,883 tonnes of silicon arrived from the country, up from December’s 4,545 tonnes—sources are more concerned about the uptick in material from Thailand.

However, not all participants felt the Thai material was Chinese silicon.

"I met with the guy representing the Thai material, and he swore up and down to me it’s not re-bagged Chinese, that it’s absolutely legit," a second trader said. "I assume he knows what he’s doing. He seemed confident there wouldn’t be any issues."

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