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Commerce Department largely upholds tariffs on Chinese solar module imports


A solar installation in San DiegoYesterday the U.S. Department of Commerce made its final ruling on trade tariffs for Chinese silicon photovoltaic manufacturers. It was one of the most watched solar issues of the year and will likely have an impact on the price of solar in the U.S. going forward.

There were two main sides to the issue, one in support, the other opposed. U.S.-based PV manufacturers like SolarWorld, who supported—indeed initiated the case—and led the efforts of the Coalition of American Solar Manufacturers (CASM). The other side, which included upstream and downstream players, like solar equipment manufacturers, silicon suppliers and installers, opposed the tariffs and created the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE).

Ultimately the department found largely in favor of CASM imposing a series of duties that will make it harder for Chinese silicon PV manufacturers to sell their photovoltaics at prices under market levels in an attempt to gain market share. Ultimately the Commerce Department set anti-dumping duties and anti-subsidy duties on Chinese manufacturers of silicon PV. The ant-dumping duties were higher and ranged from 18.32 percent on Trina Solar to 249.96 percent on Chinese manufacturers that didn’t participate in the negotiations, the numbers were equal to or lower than the preliminary tariffs imposed in May. The anti-subsidy duties were increased from the original determination ranged from a range of 2.59 percent for Suntech to 4.73 percent for Trina, to a range of 14.78 percent for Suntech, to 15.97 percent for Trina.

While CASM and SolarWorld supported the determinations, it criticized the department for not going farther, since the determination only covered PV cells produced or assembled into panels in China. It doesn’t cover panels made from cells produced in third countries, which include cells made in the U.S.

“By leaving this ‘loophole’ as defined by Members of Congress in its enforcement decision, Commerce continues to expose U.S. manufacturers to Chinese unfair trade practices,” said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc. “This will undercut the positive impact of Commerce’s duties. Assuming the International Trade Commission rules in our favor next month, we plan to ask the Commerce Department and Customs and Border Protection to address the circumvention issue through strict enforcement actions,” he said.

CASE expressed relief that the tariffs weren’t changed significantly. “We are gratified that the scope of today’s decision is limited only to solar cells made in China and that the department did not significantly increase the tariff from its preliminary decision in May,” said CASE CEO and SunEdison founder Jigar Shah. “We remain concerned about the growing global trade war, which will only hurt American solar industry jobs, growth and consumers.” Shah said the tariffs won’t stop development of solar energy in the U.S.

But others were less happy with the ruling, like Tom Gutierrez, CEO of GT Advanced Technologies. "We are concerned this ruling will have a negative effect on the U.S. solar industry. In our view, the tariffs do nothing but threaten to spark a solar trade war with China, a key U.S. economic partner. These sanctions will only make it more difficult for U.S. entrepreneurial companies like GT to export solar products abroad and will ultimately result in a loss of American jobs," he said.

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