U.S. makes call for tariffs in response to SolarWorld claim

SolarWorld received an initial validation Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Commerce for its campaign against cheap Chinese solar panels.

SolarWorld received an initial validation Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Commerce for its campaign against cheap Chinese solar panels.

The U.S. Department of Commerce delivered a victory Tuesday for SolarWorld and other U.S. solar manufacturers leading a protest against cheap, subsidized solar panels from China.

In a preliminary ruling, the department called for countervailing tariffs of between 2.9 percent and 4.73 percent.

The ruling names two Chinese manufacturers specifically, Wuxi Suntech Power Co. Ltd. received a preliminary tariff rate of 2.9 percent. Changzhou Trina Solar Energy Co. Ltd. received a preliminary tariff rate of 4.73 percent. All other Chinese exporters will receive a tariff rate of 3.61 percent.

The tariffs are aimed at crystalline silicon solar cells, modules and panels.

The Department of Commerce will make a final determination on the tariffs in June, followed by a final ruling by the International Trade Commission in July. The formal issuance of any tariffs is scheduled for July 26.

The imposition of tariffs on Chinese manufacturers, which dominate the global market for solar panels, has become more likely as President Barack Obama has started talking tough on the topic.

The push for tariffs, led by SolarWorld and backed by an organization called the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, is based on the argument that Chinese subsidies illegally lower the price of Chinese solar panels.

The counter argument, led by an organization called Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, holds that tariffs will stifle the solar industry by burdening the market with higher prices.

Jigar Shah, president of the anti-tariff group, claimed a partial victory Tuesday.

"Today’s preliminary determination by the Department of Commerce imposing low tariffs on imported solar cells and modules is a relatively positive outcome for the U.S. solar industry and its 100,000 employees," he said. "However, tariffs large or small will hurt American jobs and prolong our world’s reliance on fossil fuels. Fortunately, this decision will not significantly raise solar prices in the United States as SolarWorld has sought."

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