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Judge faults US Commerce Department in solar tariff cases

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Judge faults US Commerce Department in solar tariff cases

A federal court judge criticized the U.S. Department of Commerce for its handling of tariffs on Chinese-made solar equipment, saying the government failed to justify certain decisions it made in a trade conflict that has been building for more than five years.

In a pair of rulings Nov. 30, Judge Jane Restani of the U.S. Court of International Trade focused on Commerce Department findings that solar panel manufacturers Trina Solar Ltd. and Canadian Solar Inc. took advantage of Chinese export credits in transactions with U.S. customers.

Trina and Canadian Solar denied using the credits, but the companies' claims could not be verified because the Chinese government refused to comply with U.S. information requests, the Commerce Department said. Restani said the U.S. government failed to explain why it needed more information on China's Export Buyers' Credit Program to determine that the companies were not beneficiaries.

"Commerce simply failed to provide reasoning sufficient for this court to find that its determination was supported by substantial evidence," Restani wrote in an order directing the Commerce Department to identify what information the Chinese government failed to provide as well as the facts the U.S. government relied on to rule against the companies.

The Commerce Department issued its findings in 2017 as part of administrative reviews of import duty orders published in 2012 and 2015. The reviews covered trade activity in 2014 and 2015.

Restani also directed the Commerce Department to provide more information on its findings that China's provision of aluminum and electricity qualified as countervailable subsidies.

The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Dec. 19. It has not submitted any filings since Restani's opinions were published, according to court records.

Restani's rebuke came at a time of tense trade relations between the U.S. and China and nearly a year after President Donald Trump imposed a new round of tariffs on most imported solar cells and panels.