Yesterday, the US Trade Representative announced that President Trump approved recommendations to impose a safeguard tariff on imported solar cells and modules under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. The tariff will be in effect for the next four years at the following rates:

This tariff is the result of petitions filed in May 2017 by two US solar cell manufacturers at the (ITC under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. The petitions alleged that a global imbalance in supply and demand in solar cells and modules and a surge of cheap imports caused serious injury to the domestic solar manufacturing industry. In September, the ITC found injury to the US solar equipment manufacturing industry and, in October, released its recommendations to the White House to impose tariffs. The President’s final decision was in line with the ITC’s recommendations.The first 2.5 gigawatts (GW) of imported solar cells will be exempt from the safeguard tariff in each of those four years. According to the International Trade Commission (ITC), the United States imported approximately 12.8 GW of solar cells in 2016, which was expected to grow in 2017.

Supporters hope the tariff will encourage increased domestic solar manufacturing. Reports are circulating that a solar manufacturer is considering opening a new module factory in Florida. However, critics of the tariff like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) say that the tariff will result in a loss of 23,000 domestic jobs this year, including many in manufacturing, and will result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments. The U.S. solar energy industry currently employs 260,000 Americans in jobs ranging from installation to manufacturing racking systems and inverters. The industry created 1 out of every 50 new US jobs in 2016. According to SEIA, only 2,000 people in the United States are employed manufacturing solar cells and panels.

The tariff is also expected to increase solar module costs, with early estimates predicting an increase of 10 to 12 cents per watt based on current US import prices of 35 to 40 cents per watt.

The US Trade Representative’s press release and fact sheet took clear aim at China, singling it out as a major cause of injury to the domestic solar manufacturing industry: “Today, China dominates the global supply chain and, by its own admission, is looking to increase its capacity to account for 70 percent of total planned global capacity expansions announced in the first half of 2017.” The US Trade Representative also stated that it will “engage in discussions among interested parties that could lead to positive resolution of the separate antidumping and countervailing duty measures currently imposed on Chinese solar products and U.S. polysilicon.” Despite the aggressive rhetoric, the tariff will not be limited to Chinese imports.

Additional details on whether any countries will be exempted from the tariff and how the 2.5 GW exemption is determined should be available upon publication of a Presidential Proclamation finalizing the tariff.

Alongside the tariff on solar cells, the Trump Administration also announced a tariff on imported residential washing machines.

by Raymond Paretzky and Melissa Dorn

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has announced a proposal to address the trade dispute between the United States and China regarding solar generating equipment.  Both China and the U.S. have imposed duties on imports of solar equipment: (i) the U.S. Commerce Department found that certain Chinese solar companies had benefited from government subsidies and “dumped” their products into the U.S. market at prices below fair value, and (ii) in July, China began imposing duties as high as 57 percent on imports of polysilicon, a main ingredient in solar cells, from the U.S.  SEIA’s proposal would result in the termination of current disputes, a prohibition on new trade actions, and the establishment of funds to support the U.S. solar industry.

The U.S. trade remedy orders on Chinese solar cells and modules have resulted in Chinese manufacturers attempting to circumvent the antidumping and countervailing duty (AD/CVD) orders by assembling third-country cells into modules in China and then legally importing those modules into the U.S. free of AD/CVD duties.  (See McDermott’s Energy Business Law blog post on the AD/CVD orders.)  SEIA contends that the U.S. and Chinese trade remedy orders currently in place are causing adverse effects in the global solar industry without ultimately addressing the causes of unfair trade competition.

SEIA has been actively involved in the trade proceedings both in the U.S. and in China, and through its proposal hopes to provide a solution that is a “win-win” for both countries, the industry and consumers.  The SEIA proposal would:

  • Establish a U.S. Solar Manufacturing Settlement Fund (Fund) and a U.S. Solar Development Institute (Institute), both funded by Chinese solar manufacturers.  The Fund would help finance the production of solar equipment in the U.S. through investments in capital equipment, facilities, research and development, worker training and other areas.  The Institute would work to expand the U.S. solar market and grow the U.S. solar manufacturing base. Money for the Fund and the Institute would come from Chinese companies contributing a percentage of the price premium they currently pay to third-country cell producers to avoid the U.S. AD/CVD orders.  The U.S. entered into a similar settlement arrangement regarding the Brazilian cotton industry.
  • Require both the U.S. and China to revoke all AD/CVD orders and terminate all regulatory and judicial proceedings related to U.S. imports of solar cells and modules from China and Chinese imports of polysilicon from the U.S.
  • Prohibit the initiation of any new trade remedy investigations or other actions between the U.S. and China regarding imports of polysilicon, solar cells, or modules for the five-year term of the proposed agreement plus 12 additional months thereafter.

While the proposal has not met with an entirely positive response from the U.S. solar manufacturing industry, certain U.S. Senators, including Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, have expressed support for the proposal.   In the meantime, China recently announced additional tax breaks, in the form of refunds of 50 percent of applicable value added taxes, that will be provided to Chinese manufacturers of solar power products.