U.S. solar group seeking tariffs seeks to maintain confidentiality

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An array of solar panels is seen in the desert near Victorville, California, U.S. March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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Oct 13 (Reuters) - (This October 13 story corrected to show that the solar group identified itself to federal trade officials but not to the public, adds solar trade group statement)

A U.S. solar group seeking import tariffs on panels made by Chinese companies in Southeast Asia identified its members to federal trade officials but asked to maintain public confidentiality, citing fears of retaliation by Beijing, according to a document the group filed with the Commerce Department on Wednesday.

The filing by the group American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention (A-SMACC) is the latest development in a long-running clash between the small U.S. domestic solar manufacturing industry and a much larger contingent of U.S. solar project builders over Asian imports.

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U.S. manufacturers are eager to stamp out low-priced foreign competition, while installers rely heavily on cheap imports to make their businesses profitable.

The domestic group in August asked the Commerce Department to investigate whether imports from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam were unfair, arguing that Chinese companies had shifted production to those nations in recent years to avoid existing U.S. duties on solar cells and panels made in China.

Late last month, the Commerce Department deferred a decision on the request and asked the group to identify its members.

In its response to the department, the group identified its members, but their names were eliminated from a public version of the document. The group argued that identifying its members publicly could expose them to retribution from the Chinese industry, which dominates the global solar supply chain and could cut off supplies of critical solar panel components like polysilicon.

Should Commerce agree with the group and ultimately impose a trade remedy, "its benefits will be significantly blunted if the Department does not allow the identities of A-SMACC members to remain confidential", the filing said.

U.S. solar project developers, which make up most of the domestic industry, have lobbied forcefully against new tariffs, saying they would cripple a sector that is critical to meeting the Biden administration's climate goals.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, which is the nation's primary solar trade group and opposes tariffs, said it was "leading the way to an American solar manufacturing future," adding that the Commerce Department should dismiss the case.

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Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Jan Harvey

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