U.S. to Place Tariffs on Solar Panels From China
The United States Commerce Department said Tuesday it would impose tariffs on solar panels imported from China after concluding that the Chinese government provided illegal export subsidies to manufacturers there.
The tariffs were smaller than some American industry executives had hoped for — 2.9 percent to 4.73 percent — which could blunt their effect on the market. But additional tariffs could be imposed in May, when the Commerce Department is scheduled to decide whether China is “dumping” solar panels into the United States at prices below their actual cost. A finding of dumping would result in additional tariffs that could be far larger than the anti-subsidy tariffs.
But whatever the size of the penalties, Tuesday’s ruling is likely to further heighten trade tensions with China, while holding implications for renewable energy policy in this country.
Although the ruling is the result of a quasi-judicial review process by civil servants in the Commerce Department, the imposition of tariffs by an arm of the Obama administration seems certain to enter the partisan fray.
The president’s backers might point to it as evidence that he continues to play tough with Beijing. But opponents, including the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who are already criticizing Mr. Obama for what they say is the low level of attention to China trade issues, might call the small penalties insufficient.
Whatever political spin proponents or critics might want to put on the tariff decision, there is no question that solar panels from China now control about half the American market, while panel makers based in the United States hold less than one-third. American imports of Chinese solar panels have soared to $2.65 billion last year from $21.3 million in 2005.
But while American manufacturers oppose the imports and filed the trade case against China, users of solar energy have benefited from low-cost Chinese solar panels. In fact, an American industry group composed of companies that sell and install solar panels said Tuesday they were pleased with the relatively small size of the tariffs, having braced for higher ones.
“This is a huge victory for the U.S. solar industry and our 100,000 employees,” said Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy. “Given all our expectations, this is really good news.”