Commerce Dept. Sides With CASM; Some Warn Of ‘Retaliatory Tariffs’


The U.S. Commerce Department has determined that a ‘massive surge’ of Chinese solar imports were brought into the U.S. at the end of last year – a finding that the agency says warrants ‘critical circumstances’ that would support retroactive tariffs sought by SolarWorld and the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) as part of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases filed against China.

The agency has been investigating the matter following a preliminary determination by the U.S. International Trade Commission that the imports are detrimental to the U.S. solar manufacturing industry.

CASM has been seeking retroactive tariffs on these imports – which, according to the coalition, nearly doubled from July to December of last year. As a result of the Commerce Department's recent finding, if the agency decides to impose preliminary anti-subsidy duties during a hearing scheduled for March 2, the tariffs will apply to all imports of Chinese cells and modules that were brought into the U.S. beginning Dec. 3, 2011.

The agency will also issue a separate preliminary ruling on anti-dumping duties on March 27.

CASM lauded the Commerce Department's determination, calling China's trade practices"abusive."

"After several years of massive imports of illegally subsidized and dumped Chinese solar products, the U.S. solar manufacturing industry and its workers greatly appreciate the Department of Commerce's finding that importers of Chinese products have mounted a massive surge in product to evade accountability to U.S. and international trade law," said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc." Recognizing that an attempt at circumvention can happen, the trade law allows Commerce to act against such abusive behavior.

However, not everyone in the industry is pleased with the agency's announcement. The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) claims that imposing a 100% tariff on solar PV cells and modules imported from China would result in up to 50,000 net jobs lost in the U.S. over the next three years.

Furthermore, if retaliatory tariffs were placed on U.S. polysilicon exports to China, that could put nearly 11,000 additional U.S. jobs at risk in the first year following the tariff imposition, CASE contends.

The group, which cites an analysis prepared by The Brattle Group, states that the imposition of tariffs will"slow the growth in domestic demand for photovoltaic systems by homeowners, commercial establishments and power producers, resulting in substantial job losses."

According to CASE, the study found that a 100% tariff would result in consumer losses of between $698 million and $2.62 billion and the elimination of between 16,917 and 49,589 U.S. jobs over the next three years. A tariff of 50%, on the other hand, would result in net consumer losses of between $621 million and $2.287 billion, leading to 14,877 and 43,178 job losses over the same period, CASE claims.

CASM denies these claims, saying the study fails to consider key points – namely, that China is violating U.S. laws and international treaties. CASM also says the study"falsely assumes that the U.S. solar market will collapse without dumped and subsidized Chinese solar panels."

"This highly speculative study ignores the illegality of China's actions and fails to consider the harm those actions have caused to high-tech manufacturing jobs in the solar sector," Brinser says." We do know that thousands of good-paying American manufacturing jobs have already been lost to illegal Chinese dumping and subsidies for solar products. Our goal is to build America's solar manufacturing base and the good jobs with benefits, innovation and competition that come along with it.’

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