Trump slaps tariffs on imported washing machines, solar panel technology

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President Trump on Monday imposed tariffs on imports of residential washing machines and solar panel technology as part of a promise to crack down on trading partners the industry argues hurt U.S. manufacturers.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the president agreed to levy a 20 percent tariff on washing machines and a 30 percent tariff on solar cells and modules in the Section 201 case. 

{mosads}”The [International Trade Commission] found that U.S. producers had been seriously injured by imports and made several recommendations to the president,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

“The president’s action makes clear again that the Trump administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses in this regard,” he said. 

For washers, the president approved a safeguard tariff-rate quota for three years starting with a 20 percent rate on the first 1.2 million units. A tariff of 18 percent will apply in the second year and 16 percent in the final year of action on washers from all countries except Canada. Imports after the first 1.2 million units will face a tariff of 50 percent in the first year and fall to 40 percent in the third year. 

On Monday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called the decision “welcome news for the thousands of Whirlpool workers in Clyde, Ohio, whose jobs have been threatened by a surge of cheap washers.”

“These tariffs will help level the playing field, and show anyone who tries to cheat our trade laws that they won’t get away with it,” said Brown who spoke with Lighthizer before the decision was announced. 

But the penalties on washing machines fell short of what Brown’s fellow Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R), who has worked for years on the washer case, had asked the Trump administration to impose.

Portman and Brown had been urging the White House to apply a 50 percent tariff on all washer imports, saying in a recent letter to Lighthizer that the U.S. International Trade Commission’s recommendation for zero to 20 percent duties on the first 1.2 million units “is insufficient at curbing the flood of unfair washing machine imports that we have seen for years.”

“We believe a 50 percent tariff on all imports will go a long way to slowing the flow of these unfair products,” Portman and Brown wrote.

Since 2012, Ohio’s senators have fought for the Whirlpool plant in Ohio they say was hurt by washing machine imports by Samsung and LG.

“This announcement caps nearly a decade of litigation and will result in new manufacturing jobs in Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee,” Whirlpool board chairman Jeff Fettig said in a statement to The Hill.

“This is a victory for American workers and consumers alike,” Fettig said.

But Samsung called the decision “a great loss for American consumers and workers.”

“This tariff is a tax on every consumer who wants to buy a washing machine. Everyone will pay more, with fewer choices,” a Samsung spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill.

Samsung began U.S. production of washing machines Jan. 12 at its new South Carolina plant.

Presidents have rarely levied tariffs under the Section 201 law mostly over concerns that prices will increase for consumers, that the penalties will hurt the economy and that trading partners will retaliate with their own tariffs or through the World Trade Organization.

Between 1974 and 2016, presidents imposed trade barriers in only 19 of the 40 cases, according to an October report by the Peterson Institute of International Economics. 

The last Section 201 case that resulted in a complete investigation was initiated in 2001, the report said. 

Between 2011 and 2015 washer imports came into the United States from South Korea and Mexico, shifted to China and eventually moved to Thailand and Vietnam.  

For solar cells and modules, the relief will include a tariff of 30 percent in the first year, 25 percent in the second year, 20 percent in the third year and 15 percent in the fourth year.

The first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells will be exempt from the safeguard tariff in each of those four years.

Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, the bankrupt companies that requested the tariffs, say the decision should help grow domestic manufacturing and add more than 100,000 jobs.

Suniva said the move would hold “China and its proxies accountable.”

“Over the last five years, nearly 30 American solar manufacturers collapsed,” Suniva said in a statement.

“Today the president is sending a message that American innovation and manufacturing will not be bullied out of existence without a fight,” the company said. “This is a step forward for this high-tech solar manufacturing industry we pioneered right here in America.”

Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul applauded the Trump administration’s actions.

“These workers and manufacturers make some of the best products in the world and have been innovation leaders,” Paul said.

“But they cannot compete against surging unfair imports from countries like China, which are dumping product into the United States in an attempt to put American companies out of business and control the global marketplace,” he said. 

This story was updated at 7:45 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump International trade Rob Portman Robert Lighthizer Sherrod Brown Tariff United States International Trade Commission

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