Houston — US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation Oct. 10 revoking a loophole that has allowed the import of "bifacial" solar panels, and has moved to set tariffs at 18%, up from the 2021, fourth-year 15% level the original tariff action called for.
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The move drew a sharp rebuke from the president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, Abigail Ross Hopper, who said the Office of the US Trade Representative was "unnecessarily squeezing the supply of panels in the US, thereby inflating prices for consumers."
The fast growing solar power industry was the first market to be hit by tariffs by Trump, in February 2018. Imported crystalline silicon cells, modules and AC/integrated modules were slapped with a 30% tariff as part of a four-year effort to slow imports mainly from top Chinese manufacturers.
Imports of the panels received a 25% tariff in 2019, a 20% tariff in 2020 and were scheduled for a 15% tariff in 2021.
A number of solar products, however, were granted exemptions, one of which was the bifacial panel that allows for the generation of electricity from both sides of a solar panel. South Korean and Chinese manufacturers are the leading exporters.
Bifacial panels, which are considered by some solar project developers as offering improved efficiencies, were granted a full exemption in June 2019. Since October 2019, the exclusion has been under review.
Trump said that on Feb. 7, 2020, the US International Trade Commission issued a report on the results of its monitoring of developments with respect to the domestic solar industry.
"The ITC found that, following imposition of the safeguard measure, prices for CSPV cells and modules declined in a manner consistent with historical trends, but were higher than they would have been without the safeguard measure," the proclamation said.
"After taking into account the information provided in the ITC's reports, and after receiving a petition from a majority of the representatives of the domestic industry with respect to each of the following modifications, I have determined that the domestic industry has begun to make positive adjustment to import competition, shown by the increases in domestic module production capacity, production, and market share," Trump said in his proclamation.
Exclusion 'impaired effectiveness' of tariffs: Trump
Trump said in his proclamation that the exclusion of bifacial panels from the application of the safeguard tariff has "impaired and is likely to continue to impair" the effectiveness of his earlier imposed tariff regime "in light of the increased imports of competing products." He added "it is necessary to revoke that exclusion and to apply the safeguard tariff to bifacial panels."
He also said that to achieve the "full remedial effect envisaged for that action, it is necessary to adjust the duty rate of the safeguard tariff for the fourth year of the safeguard measure to 18%."
The SEIA's Ross Hopper called the move to rescind the bifacial exemption and the imposition of tariffs "an extraordinary and unprecedented turn of events," without there being "any opportunity for public notice and comment."