Solar Tariffs Meet with Relief, Disapproval

by | Mar 22, 2012

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to collect lower-than-expected duties on imported Chinese solar panels has been met with a mixture of approval and caution from U.S. solar interests, while Chinese companies expressed both anger and muted relief.

Tariffs of between 2.9 percent and 4.7 percent will be placed on the imported photovoltaic cells after the Department concluded that the Chinese government had supplied illegal export subsidies to companies based there. However, the tariffs were far lower than the levies of around 10 percent China had been expecting, reports IndustryWeek. The tariffs are designed to redress an imbalance between Chinese solar manufacturers and their U.S. competitors, who claim that Chinese government subsidies are creating an unlevel playing field in the lucrative U.S. solar market.

U.S. trade body The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing said that the ruling confirmed what “U.S. manufacturers have long known: Chinese manufacturers have received unfair and [Word Trade Organization]-illegal subsidies.”

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated that the Chinese government provided its manufacturers with more than $30 billion in subsidies, CASM says.

“If we address unfair trade practices in the U.S. solar market, we can get back to our business of expanding American manufacturing and jobs in the renewable energy sector,” said Carlo Santoro, director of business development at manufacturer MX Solar USA, quoted in GreenTech Media.

But Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said, “It is important to note that this is a preliminary determination… If the tariffs remain at these levels, we do not think that this will have a material impact on the U.S. market.”

And Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, warned of the possibility of higher duties to come. The coalition believes that high tariffs will undermine the U.S. industry by making solar panels more expensive to purchase and install.

“Today’s preliminary determination by the Department of Commerce imposing low tariffs on imported crystalline solar cells/modules from China, will, by itself, have a limited negative impact on the U.S. solar industry and its 100,000 employees… But before we can rest easy, there will be another, and what is likely to be, a much bigger shoe that will drop when the Commerce Department announces anti-dumping duties in May,” Shah said.

At that time, the department is scheduled to decide whether China is dumping solar panels into the U.S. below actual cost, and could impose additional tariffs, the New York Times said.

One of the affected Chinese companies, Suntech Power Holdings, issued a statement saying that the lower-than-expected tariffs reflects the fact that its success is built on “free and fair competition.” Suntech also used the statement to claim that such trade barriers will slow the U.S.’s transition to renewable technology.

Another Chinese manufacturer, Yingli Green Energy, was more critical. Yingli reiterated its claims that it was not being unfairly subsidized. The company’s CEO Liansheng Miao called the tariffs “bad for the entire solar industry.”

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