* U.S. says China was dumping solar products
* Panels with non-Chinese solar cells excluded
* U.S. panel has final say on duties in November
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Oct 10 The United States on
Wednesday set steep final duties on billions of dollars of solar
energy products from China, but turned down a request from
lawmakers and U.S. manufacturers to expand the scope of its
Chinese solar manufacturers criticized the decision, adding
more heat to the U.S.-China trade relationship following a
congressional panel report on Monday urging American companies
not to do business with two Chinese telecommunications companies
because of security concerns.
"Unilateral trade barriers will not make any one company
more competitive, but will make solar less competitive against
other forms of electricity generation," said E.L. "Mick"
McDaniel, managing director of Suntech America, a division of
one of China's biggest solar manufacturers.
The Commerce Department said Chinese companies were
"dumping" solar cells and panels in the United States at prices
18.32 percent to 249.96 percent below fair value, although some
individual companies received lower anti-dumping duty rates than
in a preliminary decision earlier this year.
The department also set additional countervailing duties
ranging from 14.78 to 15.97 percent to combat Chinese government
subsidies, significantly higher than preliminary levels.
The United States imported about $3.1 billion worth of solar
cells and panels from China in 2011, although that figure
contains some product not covered by the investigation.
In a related decision that disappointed U.S. producers and
cheered U.S. companies that install solar panels, the department
turned down pleas to expand the scope of its order to include
Chinese panels (or modules) made with non-Chinese solar cells.
Timothy Brightbill, outside attorney for SolarWorld
Industries Americas, the driving force behind the U.S.
case, said the company would continue to aggressively pursue
that issue in the hopes of a more favorable ruling.
"In our view, all Chinese cells and all Chinese modules are
dumped and subsidized," Brightbill said
SolarWorld is worried the department's current stance on the
issue will encourage Chinese solar panel producers to move cell
production to nearby countries to avoid U.S. duties, he said.
But Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable
Solar Energy, which includes Chinese and U.S. companies that
oppose SolarWorld's case, said including panels with non-Chinese
cells in the order would have "created a lot more chaos."
The Commerce Department's decision not to expand the scope
is a "silver lining" to an otherwise disappointing decision on
duties, Shah said.
The United States also has slapped preliminary duties on
wind turbine towers from China and is expected to launch a new
probe next week into charges that imports of Chinese hardwood
plywood are unfairly priced and subsidized.
"We have the most squabbles with our biggest trading
partners," said Scott Miller, a trade policy specialist with the
Center for Strategic and International Studies, explaining the
steady stream of U.S.-China trade spats.
In the solar sector, producers in the United States and
Europe complain China's rapid expansion of solar panel
manufacturing has created massive oversupply, erasing profits
and sending company share prices into a tailspin.
SolarWorld's German parent has also been behind a charge in
Europe for duties on Chinese solar panel imports.
China has warned that the U.S. and European cases could
damage trade ties and cripple development of the global solar
and clean energy sector. It has already struck back by launching
an investigation into imports of solar-grade polysilicon from
both the United States and South Korea.
Chinese manufacturer Suntech Power Holdings on
Wednesday was hit with a final anti-dumping duty of 31.73
percent and a countervailing duty of 14.78 percent.
However, combined duty rates for Suntech and other companies
will be reduced by about 10.54 percentage points to avoid
"double-counting" of Chinese export subsidies in the
anti-dumping and countervailing duty rates.
Trina Solar received a final 18.32 percent
anti-dumping duty and a 15.97 percent countervailing duty. Well
over a hundred companies were hit with a 25.96 percent
anti-dumping duty and a 15.24 percent countervailing duty.
The department also set a China-wide anti-dumping rate of
249.96 percent for other Chinese producers and exporters.
A separate U.S. government agency, the U.S. International
Trade Commission, must give its approval for the duties to take
force, although importers have been required to post bonds or
cash deposits based on the preliminary rates.
The ITC vote is expected in early November.
The Obama administration has heavily backed solar and other
renewable energy since taking office, pledging about $16 billion
for 26 projects through its clean energy loan program.
Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney has
criticized the support, saying the federal government should not
be in the business of picking winners and losers.