US puts new duties on Chinese solar panels

Updated: 2014-06-04 09:37

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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The US Commerce Department said Tuesday that it is imposing new import duties of up to 35.21 percent on solar panels made in China because it has found on a preliminary basis that the Chinese government is giving unfair subsidies to manufacturers of solar products.

While the ruling is preliminary, it means that the United States will collect the tariffs ahead of a final decision expected later this year.

Effective immediately, Commerce imposed preliminary duties of 35.21 percent on imports of panels made by Suntech Power, 18.56 percent on imports of Trina Solar and 26.89 percent on imports of most other significant Chinese producers. On July 25, the Commerce Department is expected to announce anti-dumping duties in the same cases.

The department had said in February that it would investigate solar-energy products imported from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan because there was "reasonable indication" that the imports were hurting the US solar industry.

In 2012, the US imposed duties of roughly 24 to 36 percent on imported panels made from Chinese solar cells, the final major parts that are assembled into completed modules, after concluding that Chinese solar companies had received unfair government subsidies and dumped products on the US market below costs.

The US arm of German solar manufacturer SolarWorld AG claimed that Chinese manufacturers were sidestepping the 2012 duties by shifting production of the cells used to make their panels to Taiwan and continuing to flood the US market with cheap products, making it hard for US companies to compete.

"Today is a strong win for the US solar industry," said Mukesh Dulani, US president of SolarWorld, based in Hillsboro, Oregon. "We look forward to the end of illegal Chinese government intervention in the US solar market, and we applaud Commerce for its work.''

Dulani said in a statement released before the Commerce Department's decision, "We have said countless times that we can compete with any producer in the world, but we should not be forced to compete with the Chinese government. China's pervasive subsidies distort the marketplace and have harmed the US solar manufacturing industry for years. Enough is enough."

Wade Shafer, a senior solar analyst with consultancy group HIS, said that assuming existing tariffs on the Chinese modules with the Chinese cells don't change from the current roughly 40 percent, ``the worst case outcome is that Chinese manufacturers go back to using Chinese cells and are able to sell modules into the US at prices that are competitive with Western suppliers. So we don't see the US market being closed off from Chinese suppliers as a result of this proceeding, even if it does result in more tariffs."

SolarWorld's CEO, Frank Asbeck, said in a note to President Barack Obama in February that China is "improperly seizing control of an industry that the United States invented" and that China's pricing practices has "hurt and bankrupted dozens of well-run US solar manufacturers and cost the jobs of thousands of US employees".

In 2013 imports of solar-energy products from China were valued at approximately $1.5 billion, according to the Trade Commission. Imports from China fell to about 47 million units in 2012 from 93 million in 2011 while imports from Taiwan increased to 41 million in 2012 from 22 million in 2011, according to figures from the Commerce Department.

China's photovoltaic industry issued a joint statement last month, opposing the United States' second anti-dumping and countervailing investigations on Chinese photovoltaic products. The statement called for the US and China to solve the disputes through negotiations.

China's Ministry of Commerce has reiterated its calls for the United States to objectively and fairly handle ongoing solar trade disputes, honor its commitment against protectionism and work with China to maintain a free, open and just trade environment.