Senators press Obama on India duties

With an eye towards helping local module maker First Solar, the two US senators from the state of Ohio have begun publicly pressuring the Obama Administration to attack the duties India intends to slap on US-made PV kit.

Their call comes amid apparent growing opposition within the government of India’s newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, to the anti-dumping duties, given the dampening effect they are likely to have on India’s solar market.

Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown – a Republican and Democrat respectively – have openly called on the Obama-appointed US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, to challenge India’s anti-dumping investigation and ruling, which will see US-made modules hit with duties up to $0.48/W.

Portman previously served as US Trade Representative under former president George W. Bush.

“We are concerned about reports that the Indian government’s anti-dumping investigation disregarded data provided by US manufacturers, selectively relied on information to bolster the Indian industry, and otherwise conducted the investigation in a manner that violates World Trade Organization rules,” the senators wrote in an open letter.

“We urge you to engage the Indian government to reverse this action, and to challenge their actions at the WTO if they do not.”

In late May India’s Commerce Ministry recommended anti-dumping duties on cells and modules coming from a handful of countries, including the US and China, claiming that a two-year investigation demonstrated that dumping had damaged India’s own relatively small PV manufacturing sector.

The ruling came just a few days before power was handed to Modi, who had campaigned on a huge expansion of renewable energy, to help alleviate India’s crippling power shortages.

Normally, the Commerce Ministry’s ruling would be put into action without further questions. But since the ruling was published, two senior ministers within the Modi government – Power Minister Piyush Goyal and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari – have come out against the duties, leading many to speculate that extraordinary measures may yet be taken to prevent the tariffs going into force.

“As things stand today, India doesn’t have adequate manufacturing capacity to support the kind of thrust we want to give solar," Goyal said recently.

While supported by most of India's small cadre of PV cell manufacturers, the country's fast-growing downstream PV sector largely opposes the duties.

Although based in Arizona, First Solar’s only US manufacturing site is in Perrysburg, Ohio. Most of the company’s manufacturing is done in Malaysia, another country to see duties imposed by India.