Houston — The US Trade Representative said Monday that President Donald Trump has approved recommendations to impose tariffs on imported solar cells and modules over the next four years.
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US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the decision calls for a 30% "safeguard" tariff on modules and cells in the first year, declining to 25% in the second year, 20% in the third year and 15% in the fourth year.
"Additionally, the first 2.5 GW of imported cells will be exempt from the safeguard tariff in each of those four years," he said.
Lighthizer said the USTR made the recommendations to the president based on consultations with the interagency Trade Policy Committee in response to findings by the independent, bipartisan US International Trade Commission.
The ITC had said that increased foreign imports of solar cells and modules were a "substantial cause of serious injury to domestic manufacturers," the USTR said.
The main target of the new tariffs are Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean companies who manufacture solar cells and modules and sell in the US.
Two companies -- SolarWorld USA, an affiliate of the German company SolarWorld that is based in Hillsboro, Oregon, and Chinese-owned but US-based Suniva -- brought the petition requesting tariff protection to the ITC in May.
Both companies are in bankruptcy, and Australia's Macquarie is aiding SolarWorld in finding a possible buyer.
SolarWorld Americas President and CEO Juergen Stein said Monday his company "appreciates the hard work of President Trump, the US Trade Representative, and this administration in reaching today's decision, and the president's recognition of the importance of solar manufacturing to America's economic and national security."
"We are still reviewing these remedies, and are hopeful they will be enough to address the import surge and to rebuild solar manufacturing in the United States," Stein said. "We will work with the US government to implement these remedies."
The USTR said in its release Monday that it will "engage in discussions among interested parties that could lead to positive resolution of the separate antidumping and countervailing duty measures currently imposed on Chinese solar products and US polysilicon."
The goal of those discussions, it said, "must be fair and sustainable trade throughout the whole solar energy value chain, which would benefit US producers, workers and consumers."
The USTR noted that following earlier cases filed by the US solar industry in late 2014 which resulted in 40% tariffs on Chinese solar imports, "China moved production elsewhere and evaded US relief, while maintaining capacity."
"Today, China dominates the global supply chain and, by its own admission, is looking to increase its capacity to account for 70% of total planned global capacity expansions announced in the first half of 2017," the USTR said.
SEIA SAYS MEASURE A 'DISAPPOINTMENT'
The solar trade association, SEIA, responded to the tariff announcement by saying its members are "disappointed."
"The decision effectively will cause the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs this year, including many in manufacturing, and it will result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments," SEIA said.
"While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet US demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving," said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA's president and CEO.
"It boggles my mind that this president -- any president, really -- would voluntarily choose to damage one of the fastest-growing segments of our economy," said Tony Clifford, chief development officer at Standard Solar. "This decision is misguided and denies the reality that bankrupt foreign companies will be the beneficiaries of an American taxpayer bailout."