US trade officials on Wednesday rejected efforts by a breakaway group of domestic solar energy unit manufacturers to seek tariffs on imports from three Southeast Asian nations.
The rejection was a victory for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the largest US trade body, which argued that tariffs would ruin a sector that is critical to meeting Washington’s clean energy and climate change goals.
US solar developers rely on cheap imports of panels and cells to make their projects competitive.
A rival group, American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention, petitioned the US Commerce department to investigate whether imports from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam were unfair.
The manufacturers argued that Chinese companies had shifted production to those nations in recent years to avoid existing US duties on solar cells and panels made in China.
However, the Commerce department said the group’s demand for anonymity meant the federal agency responsible for the investigation, the International Trade Administration, could not obtain the information it needed to evaluate the request.
The Coalition for a Prosperous America, an alliance of protectionist employers and unions, said it had backed the petition.
“The Commerce department should investigate unlawful Chinese circumvention, protect US companies against Chinese retaliation and ignore the fear-mongering of special interests that rely on importing Chinese solar made with forced labour and dirty coal,” the group wrote on Twitter.
But SEIA described the group’s allegations as “false”, saying a victory by the American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention would have resulted in the loss of 46,000 solar jobs in the US over the next two years.
“The petitions have already had a chilling effect on the industry’s supply chain, and if imposed, we would have seen massive project cancellations and job losses within days,” SEIA president and chief executive Abigail Ross Hopper said.
She said trade restrictions can cause irreparable harm to the solar industry. “The circumvention petitions were one of many trade actions roiling the solar industry and some damage has already been done.”
- George Russell