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Case closed: U.S. sticks Chinese solar makers with tariffs

Posting in Energy

The U.S. International Trade Commission agreed in a unanimous vote today that Chinese solar manufacturers have benefited from illegal subsidies from its government and sold products at less than fair value, the final decision in more than a year-long trade tussle.

The ITC's ruling endorses the U.S. Commerce Department's decision issued last month, which affirmed that Chinese companies were in fact dumping solar cells in the United States at prices 18.32 percent to 249.96 percent below fair value. The DOC also determined, at the time, producers and exporters have received unfair subsidies from the Chinese government of 14.78 percent to 15.97 percent.

As part of the DOC's ruling, the department adjusted some of the tariffs imposed on Chinese manufacturers. Some companies will have slightly lower tariffs, while others will now have to pay higher duties.

China avoided a much tougher ruling that would have forced many companies to change its manufacturing structure.

ITC's ruling today means tariffs will remain on imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules made in China. The tariffs will not apply retroactively to goods that entered the United States prior to the date of publication in the Federal Register of the DOC's affirmative preliminary determinations.

Whether or not the tariffs promote competition and create more equity remains unclear. The tariffs have prompted some maneuvering and gamesmanship with China.

China responded with its own trade investigations. China’s trade ministry said in July it would investigate whether U.S. and South Korean suppliers sold solar-grade polysilicon below cost. A month later, China said the U.S. received subsidies for six renewable energy projects that violated free trade rules. Penalties were not issued in that case.

This month, China launched a trade investigation into solar panel ingredients imported from Europe.

So far, warnings of job losses and rising installation costs for customers hasn’t panned out exactly as predicted. And the tariffs haven’t stopped the freefall of solar panel prices, which has also affected Chinese manufacturers. That’s largely because the balance between supply and demand is still askew.

Some Chinese manufacturers have already learned they can avoid the tariffs by using solar cells made in other countries and then assembling them in China.

Photo: SolarWorld

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— By on November 7, 2012, 7:12 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure