U.S. Trade Commission Finds Against Chinese Solar Exporters

The seven solar suitors who filed a trade complaint against China in late October, complaining that subsidized  photovoltaic panels were being "dumped" at unfair prices in the U.S. market, causing material damage to U.S. PV producers, prevailed in the first round yesterday. The six-member U.S. International Trade Commission determined unanimously that there is a reasonable indication that "U.S. industry is materially injured by reason of imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules from China that are allegedly subsidized and sold in the United States at less than fair value."

Reacting to the announcement, a spokesperson for SolarWorld, the lead complainant among the seven solar manufacturers, observed that the commission had three options in voting: no harm, a threat of harm, or actual harm. Because all six commissioners found actual harm, SolarWorld told The New York Times, it was “the highest possible outcome we could get in this admittedly incremental milestone.”

Yesterday's preliminary ruling, according to Matthew Wald of the Times, could directly result in higher tariffs being imposed on Chinese PV exporters of 5-250 percent. Next the trade commission will determine, in roughly two months time, whether China's solar exports also have been subsidized. A ruling in favor of the U.S. industry could result in additional tariffs of 100 percent.

In principle that issue would seem to be a no-brainer. But what's meant here by subsidization? All solar manufacturing and all solar installation is subsidized to some extent or another; so does the trade commission have to determine that Chinese manufacturers and exporters are somehow subsidized more excessively than their competitors in the United States, or will any finding of subsidization result in penalties? You tell me.

In a recent post about what appears to be the first-ever large-scale solar project to proceed "without government help," I invited readers to consider whether that claim should be taken literally. One reader promptly pointed out that as the project involved installation of solar arrays on housing for military personnel, perhaps the military itself was requiring such installation and covering any added costs. Good point. There's also the obvious question of whether, at least in some of the 33 states where the arrays are to be installed, the provider will be eligible for state installation or electricity production subsidies.

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