U.S. customs detained more than 2 GW of solar panels in 2022

U.S. customs statistics on quarterly detained shipments from the electronics industry (solar modules) under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act from June 2022 through February 2023
The U.S. customs have released 41% of all detained solar module shipments; only 0.8% have been denied – Source: CBP Dashboard

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency detained more than 2 GW of solar panels under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) in 2022. This volume can be derived from data on a new online dashboard the agency has set up to show quarterly statistics on shipments subjected to the UFLPA. 41% of all detained solar modules have been released in the meantime.

The UFLPA, which took effect on June 21, 2022, prohibits the import of goods from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwestern China unless the importer can provide “clear and convincing evidence” that forced labor was not used in production. In practice, it is impossible to adduce such positive evidence.

For solar module imports, the CBP demands documentation on each step of the supply chain up to quartzite, the raw material for silicon metal. Therefore, leading Chinese solar module suppliers have begun to establish separate, Xinjiang-free supply chains for module exports to the United States.

The new CBP dashboard brings at least a little bit more transparency on detentions, but the data can only be filtered by nine industries, such as the electronics industry for solar modules. “Note, however, that the Electronics industry encompasses more than just solar panels,” the CBP says in an explanatory Data Dictionary on its website.

The agency does not provide more granularity “in order to protect entities associated with its law enforcement investigations and actions, as well as other law enforcement sensitive information.” Nevertheless, the electronics industry data should be a good approximation to detained solar module shipments.

1,058 shipments are still waiting for a decision

In the calendar year 2022 (the quarterly CBP statistics refer to the fiscal year ending on September 30), 1,423 shipments from the electronics industry with a value of US$709.8 million were detained.

If one takes the imported value per watt for solar modules as shown in the latest quarterly Solar Industry Update from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory as a basis for conversion, then the US$709.8 million are equivalent to shipments of approx. 2,090 MW. In January and February 2023, an additional 204 shipments were detained, with a value of US$134.4 million corresponding to an estimated 410 MW.

In total, the CBP has thus held back 1,627 shipments with a capacity of approx. 2.5 GW so far. Of these, 552 valued at US$344.6 million have been released in the meantime – a relatively high share of 41.0%, corresponding to approx 1 GW. Only 17 shipments with a value of US$7.1 million (0.8%) have been denied. The remaining 1,058 shipments (58.2% of the total value) are still pending actions by the importer or the CBP.

As the agency initially targeted the top solar module suppliers with Xinjiang-free supply chains for export to the U.S., the high release ratio is not surprising. However, this ratio has declined only slightly from 43.1% in fiscal year 2022 (mainly the third quarter of calendar year 2022) to 38.4% in fiscal 2023, which is certainly due to the lower number of finished cases. That raises the question whether the CBP is still targeting many shipments that are Xinjiang-free with high probability instead of more doubtful importers, or even what kind of evidence the agency accepts.

In any case, the scope of detainments is declining: from approx. 1,365 MW in the third quarter of 2022 to 700 MW in the fourth quarter to an extrapolated 615 MW in the first quarter of 2023.

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