US-China war over solar

US-China war over solar

Elisa Maria Giannetto
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Hit hard by Chinese competition, the American photovoltaic industry is asking for protectionist measures

The United States government has announced that it is considering new duties on imported solar cells. In a recently published WTO filing, the US has notified the 163 other members of the organization the measure is intended to protect the US solar industry from Chinese competition. The move is in response to China’s trade policy, which is perceived as excessively aggressive, constituting unfair competition. This is compounded by plunging prices following a global solar market glut that has caused American firms to suffer. The question of whether the harm to US industry warrants the use of “safeguard” tariffs will be decided by the International Trade Commission (ITC) when it rules on a petition filed just weeks ago by Georgia-based solar firm Suniva. That company was forced to declare bankruptcy in April, unable to compete with (mostly Chinese) suppliers offering rates as low as 35 cents/Watt. The company has lost over $50 million since 2015. That’s just one story among many, which, collectively, could pressure the Trump administration to do as Suniva asks and nearly double the net price of imported solar cells to $0.78/Watt, with a baseline duty of $0.40/Watt. Crossing that line would make American solar the most expensive in the world. According to HIS Markit, that would drive US demand for solar panels down 60% between 2018 and 2021.