U.S. producers are worried about what happens when U.S. ethanol sold in Europe becomes more expensive.
U.S. ethanol producers on Tuesday criticized the European Union for imposing a five-year tariff that will drive up the price of American ethanol sold in Europe by about 10 percent, or 25 cents per gallon.
The duty, imposed after an investigation of alleged dumping, will benefit German, French, British and other E.U. renewable energy producers but threatens to raise transatlantic trade tensions.
“That shuts us out of the market — we are no longer the lowest-cost fuel on the planet,” Ed Hubbard, general counsel of the U.S. trade group, the Renewable Fuels Association, said in an interview.
The duty of 62.30 euros ($83.20) a metric ton aims to punish U.S. exporters of ethanol for allegedly selling it in Europe below cost, a practice known as dumping.
“We believe there was no evidence of any dumping or injury,” said Jason Searl, vice president of ethanol marketing and trading for Poet Ethanol Products of Sioux Falls, S.D., which operates four ethanol plants in Minnesota.
“Cargill, like other ethanol producers, is disappointed about this decision,’’ a Cargill spokesman said.
The tariff hits U.S. producers at a time when many are suffering, with some U.S. plants idled because of high corn prices or limited availability.
“It is going to have an indirect, if not direct, effect on Minnesota producers,” said Doug Punke, CEO of Renewable Products Marketing Group, a Shakopee-based ethanol marketer.
Punke predicted “pretty heavy pushback” from the U.S. industry and government over what he and others characterized as European protectionism.
In its decision Monday in Brussels, the E.U. said European biofuel manufacturers suffered “material injury” as a result of dumped imports from the United States in 2010-2011. The levy, which applies only to U.S. ethanol used for fuel, will take effect after publication in the 27-nation bloc’s Official Journal by Feb. 25.
The dumping probe opened in November 2011 after a complaint by European manufacturers. U.S. ethanol producers including Poet, Marquis Energy of Hennepin, Ill., Patriot Renewable Fuels of Annawan, Ill., Platinum Ethanol of Arthur, Iowa, and Plymouth Energy Co. of Merrill, Iowa, increased their combined share of the E.U. ethanol market to 15.7 percent in the 12 months through September 2011 compared with 1.9 percent in 2008, according to the E.U.
“This clearly exerted pressure on the Union industry,” the E.U. said.
But Christina Martin, executive vice president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the European Union’s investigative report indicates that it found “absolutely no evidence of dumping” by specific companies, including Poet and Minnetonka-based Cargill’s international trading operation in Geneva.
The new levy follows existing E.U. anti-dumping duties on imports of U.S. biodiesel, another renewable fuel for vehicles. In December, the E.U. dropped a separate threat to apply five-year anti-subsidy duties on U.S. ethanol.