The US gave final approval on Wednesday to duties on billions of dollars of solar-energy products from China for the next five years, protecting US producers against lower-priced imports and raising fears of Chinese retaliation.
The US International Trade Commission (ITC) voted 6-0 in favor of double and triple-digit duties in a case filed last year by SolarWorld Industries America.
Beijing has protested the case each step of the way, calling it a protectionist move.
SolarWorld, the largest US solar-panel manufacturer, accused Chinese competitors such as Suntech Power Holdings (尚德電力) of selling solar cells and panels in the US at unfairly low prices and receiving government subsidies. SolarWorld’s German parent, SolarWorld AG, is pressing the EU for similar curbs on Chinese solar products.
Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld America, told reporters the unanimous vote showed “very clearly” that US producers had been harmed the imports.
The duties should allow US producers to start adding jobs, but stringent enforcement is needed to prevent Chinese companies from circumventing the orders, he said.
In the meantime, SolarWorld has invested US$27 million over the past year in technology that is increasing the efficiency of its solar cells, Brinser said.
The US imported about US$3.1 billion of solar cells and panels from China last year, up from US$640 million two years earlier, although both figures contain some products not covered by the investigation.
The ITC vote clears the way for the US Department of Commerce to issue five-year anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders on those imports, based on rates announced last month.
Suntech, the world’s largest producer of solar panels, was hit with combined duties of about 36 percent, while another major Chinese manufacturer, Trina Solar (天合光能), faces duties of about 23.75 percent.
More than a hundred other Chinese producers and exporters face combined duties of about 31 percent and other Chinese firms combined duties of more than 250 percent.
“SolarWorld’s hypocritical campaign has forced the fast-growing American solar industry to foot the bill for SolarWorld’s competitive failures,” Suntech America managing director E.L. McDaniel said in a statement.
US companies that market and install Chinese solar panels were also disappointed by the vote and urged the US and Chinese governments to negotiate a solar-energy trade deal that both sides can accept.
“Unilateral tariffs and a trade war in today’s interconnected global marketplace are unnecessary, and detrimental to effective and efficient business competition,” Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, said in statement.
In a separate 4-2 vote on Wednesday, the ITC rejected the Department of Commerce finding of “critical circumstances,” which would have made the duties retroactive to 90 days before the preliminary rates were announced.
Chinese manufacturer Yingli Green Energy (英利綠色能源) said that decision saved it US$13.7 million in duties it had on its books.