US raises tariffs on Chinese solar energy products


The US International Trade Commission voted 6-0 in favour of double- and triple-digit duties in a case filed last year by SolarWorld Industries America.

Beijing has protested the case each step of the way, calling it a protectionist move that threatens the future of solar energy by driving up costs for consumers.

Trade ties

Following the US decision, the European Union yesterday launched an investigation into alleged state subsidies for Chinese solar panel manufacturers, intensifying the conflict over the multibillion dollar solar power equipment market that is straining trade ties.

The EU’s executive body is already investigating allegations of Chinese manufacturers “dumping” solar panels in overseas markets, meaning deliberately selling products for less abroad than at home or at less than cost.

The United States imported about $3.1 billion worth of solar cells and panels from China in 2011, up from $640 million two years earlier, although both figures contain some solar products not covered by the investigation.

The ITC vote clears the way for the US commerce department to issue five-year anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders on those imports.

Suntech, the world’s largest producer of solar panels, was hit with combined commerce department duties of about 36 per cent, while another major Chinese manufacturer, Trina Solar , faces duties of about 23.75 per cent.

More than 100 other Chinese producers and exporters face combined duties of about 31 per cent and other Chinese firms combined duties of more than 250 per cent.

The decision, which comes after several related investigations and rulings beginning more than a year ago, was a victory for the US panel producers who filed the case and have been struggling to survive in a market glutted with cheap Chinese imports.

The case was important for the health of the domestic industry, supporters say, and also for sending a message that the United States was willing to enforce its trade laws.

“This basically takes it from being just allegations of illegal activities in this industry to confirmation,” said Gordon Brinser, the chief executive of SolarWorld Industries America, the lead company that brought the case.

Domestic industry

“This was a growing industry just a couple years ago that has been basically decimated by the Chinese manufacturers.”

Whether the tariffs can help save the US industry, which has been struggling to survive in a market glutted with cheap Chinese panels, is a matter of some dispute.

Because the tariffs apply to panels made of Chinese-produced solar cells, Chinese companies are able to avoid the duties by assembling panels composed of cells produced elsewhere, even if their components come from China.

– (Reuters/New York Times service)