The other shoe dropped in the U.S.-China solar trade dispute today – and it’s a hefty one.
Two months after slapping puny preliminary countervailing duties on crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells imported from China, the U.S. Commerce Department announced [PDF] anti-dumping duties of around 31 percent on China’s largest solar companies, including Trina and Suntech, and up to nearly 250 percent on other manufacturers.
“The verdict is in,” said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld, which has led the fight for duties. “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.”
Under the ruling, the Chinese companies will now have to post bonds or cash deposits on their U.S.-bound solar cells and modules until the Commerce Department reaches a final determination in the case in October. And because the department determined that a surge in Chinese imports since SolarWorld filed its trade petition in October constituted “critical circumstances,” the duties will be applied 90 days retroactive to the publication of the ruling, which should come any day.
The new duties will be added to the countervailing duties of 2.9 to 4.73 percent ordered in March by the Commerce Department and will no doubt raise the cost of solar panels for U.S. consumers.
The complaint against the Chinese solar industry was brought by seven U.S. solar manufacturers, led by the Hillsboro, Ore.-based American unit of the German company SolarWorld AG. The companies said Chinese exports to the United States rose more than 300 percent from 2008 to 2010, and then skyrocketed in 2011, with exports in the month of July alone exceeding those from all of 2010. The group said the stunning ramp-up in exports was due to Chinese government subsidies and dumping margins “well in excess of 100 percent.”
The allegations by the U.S. manufacturers inflamed the Chinese and prompted a bitter internal fight in the U.S. solar industry. SolarWorld and its Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing cohorts say that without protective duties, U.S. solar PV manufacturing jobs will be lost to China; installers and others in the solar supply chain—many of them gathered under the banner of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE)—say that duties could spell the end of the PV boom that has created tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.
Reacting to today ruling, CASE head man Jigar Shah lashed out at SolarWorld. He said the company “received one of its biggest subsidies yet — an average 31 percent tax on its competitors” that would “come right out of the paychecks of American solar workers.” Shah held out hope that “between now and a final decision before the end of the year, there are many issues that will be addressed and whose resolution would lead to a significantly lower tariff.”
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has avoided taking sides in the dispute, but it too reacted with concern to the new ruling.
“Disputes within one segment of the industry affect the entire solar supply chain–and these broad implications must be recognized,” SEIA chief Rhone Resch said in an emailed statement. “In addition, the U.S. solar manufacturing base goes well beyond solar cell and module production and includes billions of dollars of recent investments into the production of polysilicon, polymers, and solar manufacturing equipment, products which are largely destined for export. If the U.S.-China solar trade disputes continue to escalate, it will jeopardize these U.S. investments.”