The U.S. Department of Commerce hinted on Monday that American solar panel manufacturers might prevail in their case against subsidized Chinese imports.
Led by SolarWorld of Hillsboro, a group of U.S. solar panel manufacturers have asked the federal government to add a 50 to 250 percent tariff to imported solar panels from China to make up for 30 Chinese government subsidy programs that artificially reduce the panel prices Chinese manufacturers can offer.
Chinese-made solar panels already represent half the American market, according to this story in the New York Times.
In a preliminary decision issued Monday, the Commerce Department’s International Trade Association said “there have been massive imports of solar cells over a relatively short period” and officials have “reasonable cause to believe or suspect” that the Chinese subsidies are “inconsistent” with World Trade Organization rules.
The decision precedes a formal ruling on the case scheduled for March 2, and it allows the feds to retroactively implement tariffs if the ruling favors U.S. manufacturers.
The New York Times reports:
“But the department’s finding might not mean that tariffs are imminent or that they will be retroactive, said one trade expert, David M. Spooner, a former assistant secretary for import administration. For the tariffs to apply, he said, a second part of the government, the United States International Trade Commission, must agree, and often it does not.”
But as The Oregonian reports, the Commerce Department’s preliminary decision was a rare example of the government tipping its hand in a trade violation case.
“But New York international trade lawyer Robert Leo, in private practice since 1991, said he could not recall Commerce making such a declaration before a preliminary ruling on subsidies.
‘I think you can read between the lines that they’re going to find dumping and countervailing duties,’ Leo said. ‘The question is whether it’s going to stick or not.’”
While solar manufacturers were celebrating the preliminary decision, companies that sell and install solar panels were making their case against taxing imported Chinese solar panels. The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy released a study Monday that claims up to 50,000 jobs would be lost from the U.S. solar industry over the next three years if tariffs were imposed. There would also be a risk that China would impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. polysilicon exports.
“This analysis makes it clear that imposing even a 50% tariff, much less than SolarWorld
has requested, would be devastating for American workers,” said Jigar Shah, President of CASE. “We cannot allow one company’s anti-China crusade to threaten the U.S. solar industry and tens of thousands of American jobs.”
But manufacturers responded by defending their case against Chinese imports and warning that if Chinese manufacturers are allowed to take control of the global solar panel market, they would likely raise prices later.
As Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld, said in a news release about his company’s charge against Chinese trade violations: “SolarWorld and Coalition for American Solar Manufacturers believe that free trade is trade free of illegal governmental intervention. Robust and legal international competition, not predatory pricing that relies on massive and improper subsidies, will produce the best products and sustainable price declines over the long term.”