| LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON
LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON Feb 14 American trade
officials on Friday will take a first step on potentially
extending import duties on Chinese solar energy products to also
cover panels made with parts from Taiwan, in a case that could
have a major impact on the fast-growing U.S. solar market.
The U.S. International Trade Commission is scheduled to make
a preliminary decision at 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) on whether
there is good reason to think that the imports threaten or
injure the domestic solar industry.
A finding that they do would put Washington on a path toward
widening the reach of the steep duties it slapped on products
from China in 2012, potentially escalating a tit-for-tat trade
spat. In contrast, a negative finding could stop the complaint
from the U.S. arm of German solar manufacturer SolarWorld AG
in its tracks.
SolarWorld, which makes crystalline silicon solar panels at
its factory in Hillsboro, Oregon, has complained that Chinese
manufacturers are sidestepping the duties by shifting production
of the cells used to make their panels to Taiwan and continuing
to flood the U.S. market with cheap products.
Shayle Kann, senior vice president at solar market research
firm GTM Research, said a decision to broaden the duties would
have a greater impact than the 2012 decision as manufacturers
have no handy escape route.
"Either the manufacturers will have to set up manufacturing
elsewhere or they will have to pay the tariff. Either way, the
impact will be a lot more than it was the last time around," he
"If the Commerce Department imposes tariffs that are
significant with the scope SolarWorld has proposed, then prices
for solar panels will be noticeably higher than they otherwise
would have been."
The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, representing
about 50 U.S. solar companies which mainly focus on
installation, said the cost of modules had already gone up 10
percent since December 31, when the complaint was filed, as
Chinese manufacturers prepared for likely heftier duties.
"If they (the ITC) go against us, that could be an immediate
20 percent increase in solar module prices. We might lose tens
of thousands of jobs," said coalition President Jigar Shah.
He said only a fraction of the solar industry's 145,000
workers were employed by manufacturers, who would stand to
benefit from higher duties on imports, while installers would
SolarWorld Chairman Frank Asbeck wrote in a letter to
President Barack Obama on February 5 that Chinese subsidies and
below-cost pricing had driven "dozens" of U.S. manufacturers out
"Illegal trade practices threaten to destroy any ongoing
U.S. role in global solar industry competition," he wrote.
The value of imports of solar products from China fell by
almost a third from 2012 to 2013 and imports from Taiwan rose
more than 40 percent, although from a much smaller base,
according to ITC data. Commerce Department figures show solar
imports from China were worth just over $2 billion in 2012,
while imports from Taiwan totaled $510 million.
China, which has criticized the United States over the new
investigation, has slapped anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties
on imports of U.S. polysilicon, solar's key raw material.
U.S. solar installations were worth more than $13 billion in
2013, according to research firm GTM. About half the solar
equipment installed in the United States last year was made in
China. In the fast-growing rooftop solar market, that figure was
If the ITC decides the imports could be hurting the domestic
industry, the Commerce Department will make preliminary
determinations about whether the products are being sold in the
United States below their fair value or if their manufacturers
receive inappropriate levels of subsidies, and suggest duties.
Follow-up decisions from both the ITC and the Commerce
Department are needed before duties are finalized.
The trade group Solar Energy Industries Association has been
trying to get SolarWorld, Chinese manufacturers and the Chinese
and U.S. governments to settle the dispute.
Under the association's settlement proposal, Chinese
companies would agree to pay into a fund that would then be used
for the benefit of U.S. solar manufacturers. The deal would
require China to revoke the restrictions on imports of U.S.