US trade body recommends up to 35% duty on solar gear imports

The US solar industry held down by imports of cheap solar gear from countries like China and Mexico, got some reprieve after federal trade commissioners proposed import tariffs that were, however, less than half what a bankrupt US panel maker has sought for.

The US International Trade Commission (USITC) on Tuesday recommended that the United States impose restrictions on solar power equipment purchased from abroad, including tariffs of up to 35 per cent.

Officials from the USITC also recommended limiting imports of certain solar components besides imposing tariffs of 10 per cent to 35 per cent on certain products.

USITC, an independent federal agency that governs trade, announced a range of recommendations aimed at protecting domestic makers of solar equipment from unfairly priced imports, especially from China.

The recommendations will be sent to the president by 13 November. He will have 60 days to accept or reject these ideas as he determines the ultimate course of action.

The decision comes as Trump is preparing to travel to China next week to meet with Chinese officials on a range of security and trade issues. Solar may be just one of many industries under discussion, including oil and gas, automobiles and finance.

The move sets the stage for one of President Trump's first major trade policy decision, after repeatedly talking about imposing sweeping tariffs on products from China, Mexico and elsewhere during his Presidential campaign.

American solar producers have sought restrictions on imports of low-cost solar panels that undercut US manufacturers even as major buyers of solar panels, like utility companies and home installers, have warned that any restriction on imports would lead to a price surge making solar power projects unviable.

Two companies, Suniva and SolarWorld, brought a solar case to the trade commission in April this year, contending they were forced into bankruptcy as a result of a flood of subsidized imports from China. The companies said imports of photovoltaic cells and modules that are ultimately made into solar panels had driven them and other American companies out of business.

Georgia-based Suniva Inc was seeking tariffs of 32 cents a watt for panel imports, equal to the current average price. Other US solar companies had been bracing for higher duties.

Solar power industry, however, said any hike in import duties would disrupt the $29 billion industry, stifling installations and triggering job cuts. Some developers were already stocking up on inventory in anticipation of higher costs and halting construction on projects because of pricing uncertainty.

Suniva called the International Trade Commission's recommendations ''disappointing'' and that they were not strict enough. It called on President Trump to implement more stringent restrictions ''necessary to save American manufacturing.''

The Solar Energy Industries Association, meanwhile, stated that the commissioners had taken a thoughtful approach and did not recommend ''anything close to what the petitioners asked for.'' But it emphasised that proposed tariffs would be intensely harmful to the industry.