US imposes steep duties on Chinese solar panels

The United States on Tuesday imposed a fresh round of steep duties on certain imports of Chinese solar panels after determining that their manufacturers are receiving government subsidies.

The Commerce Department made a preliminary ruling to slap duties ranging between 18.56 to 35.21 percent on some crystalline silicon photovoltaic products to offset the Chinese government’s evasion of previously leveled tariffs.

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“Today is a strong win for the U.S. solar industry,” said Mukesh Dulani, president of SolarWorld Industries America, based in Hillsboro, Ore.

“We look forward to the end of illegal Chinese government intervention in the U.S. solar market, and we applaud Commerce for its work that supports fair trade.”

A final decision is expected later this year but the U.S. can start collecting the tariffs now.

China has avoided most of the U.S. duties put in place in late 2012 by outsourcing production to other countries such as Taiwan.

In late 2012, the crystalline silicon solar manufacturing industry won duties averaging 31 percent to offset illegal government subsidies that enabled Chinese producers to sell at artificially low prices in an attempt to seize market share from U.S. manufacturers.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the decision confirms what U.S. manufacturers have long known that “Chinese solar producers benefit from illegal government subsidies that disadvantage and harm American producers.”

"The investigation and determination by the Department of Commerce is an important step toward ensuring a level playing field for American solar manufacturers and the jobs they support."

But some in the U.S. solar industry expressed concerns that the decision will hurt domestic production more than it will help.

“These damaging tariffs will increase costs for U.S. solar consumers and, in turn, slow the adoption of solar within the United States,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO Solar Energy Industries Association.

He said the tariffs may not provide much benefit to the dispute's sole petitioner SolarWorld.

“It’s time to end this needless litigation with a negotiated solution that addresses SolarWorld’s trade allegations while ensuring the continued growth of the U.S. solar market,” he said.

He said his group has been facilitating settlement discussions between Chinese solar manufacturers and SolarWorld to develop an industry recommendation to kick-start the government negotiations.  

“Although we’ve succeeded in establishing direct communications between the parties — and are working with all segments of the industry to find a consensus solution — we’re quickly running out of time,” he said.

“We’re strongly urging all parties to set aside their grievances, redouble efforts to find a solution that benefits all segments of the industry and end this potentially costly and divisive conflict.”