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US government confirms final duties on Chinese cells

The US government set final duties between 18.32% and 249.96% on solar cells it says that China is dumping on the American market, siding with a group of manufacturers led by a subsidiary of SolarWorld that brought the complaint.

The Commerce Department (DOC) says the lowest anti-dumping duty was imposed on Trina Solar, compared to 31.14% it initially set in May. Another 59 Chinese suppliers including Canadian Solar and Yingli now face a 25.96% tariff, while Suntech’s products were slapped with a 31.73% duty, up slightly from a preliminary 31.22%.

A 249.96% duty was imposed on solar panels from all other Chinese exporters to the US.

DOC also determined that the Chinese government was unfairly subsidising exports of solar cells to the US in violation of international trade rules, and in response set higher countervailing duties than it announced in March.

It imposed a rate of 14.78% on solar cells from Suntech, up from an initial 2.9%, and 15.97% on those from Trina, versus 4.73%. Other Chinese exporters now face a 15.24% countervailing duty.

The duties will take effect if the US International Trade Commission (ITC) in November approves the DOC moves. ITC is an independent and nonpartisan federal agency that investigates trade issues, with its findings used by the executive and legislative branches to enact US trade policy.

DOC’s action did not cover Chinese modules, laminates and panels with cells from other origins.

"Unilateral trade barriers will not make any one company more competitive, but will make solar less competitive against other forms of electricity generation," Suntech America managing director EL "Mick" McDaniel says in response to DOC's decision. Calling the duties "ill-conceived," he argues that growth of "destructive trade barriers represents a significant, long-term challenge to the health of the solar industry in the US and globally."

He adds that no one benefits from a global solar trade war "except for those who want a less competitive solar industry."

A number of developers and installers opposed the action by SolarWorld Americas, partly in the belief that if successful, higher duties on Chinese imports would slow the downward trend in solar power toward grid parity in some parts of the US.

Kevin Lapidus, senior vice president legal and government affairs at SunEdison, said last week in a conference call that SolarWorld was using the US legal system to compensate for its own business mistakes, such as a late focus on the utility business and an inability to compete.

US polysilicon producers worry China, their largest market, could retaliate by raising import tariffs.

These ill-conceived taxes on solar products were the outcome of an unrealistic analysis that compared, for example, Suntech's costs of production to the theoretical costs of production in Thailand, a country with less than 100MW of PV production capacity.

It's unfortunate that the process works this way; however, Suntech is well-prepared for the future and to serve the needs of our customers," says McDaniel.

"As a multinational company with global supply chains and manufacturing facilities in three countries, including Goodyear, Arizona, we will continue to provide our customers in the US with hundreds of megawatts of high-quality and affordable solar products that will not be subject to tariffs," adds McDaniel.

DOC’s action is likely to be applauded by many lawmakers in Congress, who for years have accused China of unfairly subsidizing clean energy and other exports, while using an array of policies to limit penetration of most US products and services in its domestic market.

The move also comes with President Barack Obama under attack from Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent in 6 November elections, for not being tough enough with China to reduce an almost $400bn bilateral trade deficit.

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