WASHINGTON Oct 3 U.S. solar panel producers,
who have already won preliminary duties on billion of dollars of
solar panel imports from China, appear well positioned to win
longer-term relief in coming weeks as the U.S. government makes
its final decisions.
The high-profile case, which has been copied by producers in
Europe and spawned threats of retaliation from Beijing, now
largely turns on whether the U.S. International Trade Commission
finds U.S. manufacturers have been "materially injured," or are
threatened with material injury, by the imports.
"We feel we have a very strong injury case," Tim Brightbill,
lead attorney for SolarWorld Americas and other U.S.
producers, told Reuters ahead of an ITC hearing on Wednesday to
examine the case before the panel votes in early November.
"The impact on the domestic industry has just been
devastating. I think we're unfortunately up to 13 companies
where there has been either a shutdown or a bankruptcy or
significant work layoffs due to the Chinese imports," he said.
Even some critics of the duties, like GT Advanced
Technologies President Tom Gutierrez, see little chance
they won't be imposed because U.S. decision makers only consider
whether U.S. producers have been harmed or threatened by the
imports and not the larger impact any duties might have.
"That's the fundamental flaw in the process. ... Nothing is
going to change," said Gutierrez, whose company exports
high-technology equipment used in the solar manufacturing
process and could be hit if China does decide to retaliate.
Gutierrez predicted that "not a single U.S. job will be
created" if U.S. duties are imposed, but thousands could be lost
in the installation and export sector.
The U.S. Commerce Department, which has set combined
preliminary duties of roughly 35 percent on most Chinese solar
panels, will make a final decision on duties on Oct. 10.
That would set the stage for the final ITC vote in early
November. It is relatively rare for the ITC to reject duties but
it does occur. At least four commissioners would have to change
their votes from last year, when the panel voted 6-0 that there
was a reasonable indication of material injury.
HIGHER DUTIES, BROADER RULING SOUGHT
U.S. producers also hope the Commerce Department will set
higher duties in its final decision next week.
They were disappointed the department set preliminary
countervailing duties of just 2.90 percent to 4.73 percent to
offset Chinese government subsidies and anti-dumping duties of
about 31 percent to offset unfairly low pricing by the main
Chinese producers and exporters.
"We don't feel (the duties) adequately reflect the entire
harm or the damage that's been done to the U.S. industry," said
Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Americas, whose German
parent company is also pushing for duties in Europe.
"If you look at the pricing collapse that's occurred over
the past three years, it's (much more than what was reflected
in) those initial duties that were put in place," Brinser added.
SolarWorld also wants the Commerce Department to reverse a
decision that excludes from U.S. duties any Chinese solar panels
made from cells manufactured outside China.
The department's preliminary stance on that issue will just
encourage Chinese producers to out-source their cell production
off shore to escape U.S. duties, Brinser said.
A broader order and higher anti-dumping and countervailing
duties would help the U.S. industry start growing again, instead
of just hanging on, he said.
However, non-manufacturing segments of the U.S. solar
industry fear duties could cripple U.S. demand in the long run.
"The irony of the trade case is that at precisely the time
we're making progress in reducing the price of solar, SolarWorld
... is trying to increase prices," said Kevin Lapidus, senior
vice president at Sun Edison, a California-based company that
installs solar panels.
Rather than try to push prices higher, the U.S. solar
industry needs to find ways to further reduce costs so it can be
competitive with fossil fuels, Lapidus said.
SolarWorld and other U.S. manufacturers represent only about
2 to 3 percent of U.S. solar industry jobs and are jeopardizing
the future for the other 97 to 98 percent, he said.
Lapidus is a spokesman for the Coalition for Affordable
Solar Energy, which estimates there are some 100,000 solar
industry jobs in the United States, most of which are involved
in the design, engineering, sales, installation and maintenance
of solar systems.