US imposes tariffs on underpriced solar imports from Chinese companies

The Obama administration will impose hefty tariffs on Chinese solar imports after determining Thursday that the country is flooding the market with underpriced panels.

The Commerce Department, in a preliminary determination, ordered U.S. Customs and Border Protection to impose tariffs of between 31 and 250 percent on solar imports from various Chinese companies.

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The decision is a victory for solar panel manufacturer SolarWorld Industries America, which, along with several other manufacturers, pressed the administration to impose the tariffs last year.

“The verdict is in,” SolarWorld President Gordon Brinser said in a statement. “In addition to its preliminary finding that Chinese solar companies were on the receiving end of at least 10 WTO-illegal subsidies, Commerce has now confirmed that Chinese manufacturers are guilty of illegally dumping solar cells and panels in the U.S. market. We appreciate the Commerce staff’s hard work on this matter.”

The company accused China of violating World Trade Organization rules, making it difficult for U.S. companies to compete.

The trade case has divided the U.S. solar industry. Solar generators, which have thrived because of the inexpensive Chinese solar panels, have raised concerns that the tariffs will stunt the industry’s growth.

“The global market for solar cells and modules is more competitive than ever, and companies around the world, including SolarWorld, have been forced to cut prices to compete,” Jigar Shah -- president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, which opposes the tariffs -- said in a statement. “Ultimately, free global competition is good for American consumers and American workers.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar industry's trade group, called on China and the United States Thursday to work together to resolve their differences.

"The solar industry calls upon the U.S. and Chinese governments to immediately work together towards a mutually-satisfactory resolution of the growing trade conflict within the solar industry," SEIA President Rhone Resch said in a statement.

"While trade remedy proceedings are basic principles of the rules-based global trading system, so too are collaboration and negotiations."

SEIA, which represents a wide range of solar industry stakeholders, has not taken an official stance on the trade case.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that Wuxi Suntech and Trina Solar will face tariffs of 31.22 and 31.14 percent, respectively. The department will impose a 31.18 percent tariff on 59 other solar panel exporters. The rest of the Chinese solar panel makers will face a 249.96 percent tariff on their exports.

The tariffs apply specifically to crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and will be retroactive for 90 days.

The department is slated to make its final decision in October. It will issue a final order if the International Trade Commission determines in November that the underpriced panels are injuring the solar industry.

Thursday’s decision comes more than a month after the department made a preliminary decision to impose separate, relatively small tariffs on Chinese solar imports, finding that the country unfairly subsidized its panels. The determination is part of a separate investigation being conducted by the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission.

Commerce is expected to make a final decision on whether China is unfairly subsidizing its panels in June. The International Trade Commission will then need to finalize its finding that Chinese solar imports harm the U.S. solar industry before a final order can be issued. An ITC decision is expected in July.

This story was updated at 4:33 p.m.

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