The Commerce Department, in its last move in the long-running and heated U.S.-China solar trade dispute, today boosted the antisubsidy duties placed on many Chinese crystalline silicon PV importers, while leaving antidumping duties mostly unchanged. The net result was duties totaling in the neighborhood of 24 to 31 percent for most of the products subject to duties.

The dispute, set in motion nearly a year ago by the U.S. unit of Germany-based SolarWorld and a handful of other U.S. solar manufacturers beleaguered by low-priced Chinese PV imports, has split the solar industry. Developers and installers claim duties could snuff out solar’s growth; the manufacturers say they simply want to compete on a level playing field. The decision on who wins the argument now rests with the U.S. International Trade Commission, which is set to rule in November if the U.S. industry has been harmed by Chinese product-dumping and government subsidies. A yes on that question by three members of the six-person panel would enact the sanctions.

solarworld hillsboro
image via SolarWorld

Earlier this year, in two separate rulings, the Commerce Department ordered preliminary antisubsidy duties ranging from 2.9 to 4.73 percent and antidumping duties of around 31 percent on China’s largest solar companies, including Trina and Suntech.

In today’s final determination by the department [PDF], Suntech and a number of other named producers saw their antisubsidy duties hiked to 14.78 percent, while Trina Solar’s was kicked up to 15.97 percent.

On the dumping side, Suntech’s duty went from 31.22 to 31.73 percent; Trina saw a cut from 31.14 to 18.32 percent; and a number of companies that had been assessed at the “other producers” rate of 249.96 percent were assessed duties of 25.96 percent. Unnamed producers remained at the higher level. But there was an element of the Commerce Department ruling that took some of the sting out of the antidumping duty, reducing the required deposits companies must pay by 10.54 percent across the board to reflect the fact that “all producers and exporters benefited from an export subsidy.” This chart put out by the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, opponents of the duties, reflects how the final Commerce ruling impacted the total duties for major Chinese and broader categories of companies:

solar duties
image via Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy

The department affirmed its earlier “critical circumstances” ruling, which put the duties into effect 90 days retroactive to its preliminary rulings earlier this year.

However, in a blow to SolarWorld and the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, the department rebuffed arguments to expand the scope of the products covered. The manufacturers had sought to have panels assembled and shipped from China from solar cells made outside the country also included in the case. On that count, the manufacturers vowed to press regulators to keep a close eye on attempts by Chinese companies to circumvent the duties.

“By leaving this ‘loophole’ as defined by Members of Congress in its enforcement decision, Commerce continues to expose U.S. manufacturers to Chinese unfair trade practices,” Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America, said in a statement. “This will undercut the positive impact of Commerce’s duties. Assuming the International Trade Commission rules in our favor next month, we plan to ask the Commerce Department and Customs and Border Protection to address the circumvention issue through strict enforcement actions.”

The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, representing installers, developers and even some manufacturers opposed to trade sanctions, took solace in holding the line on the scope of the duties.

“We are gratified that the scope of today’s decision is limited only to solar cells made in China and that the Department did not significantly increase the tariff from its preliminary decision in May,” the group’s president, Jigar Shah, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that continued innovations in technology, a competitive global marketplace, and demand-generated pressure for lower prices will take precedence moving forward. At the same time, we remain concerned about the growing global trade war, which will only hurt American solar industry jobs, growth and consumers.”

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