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USA decision gets closer about the import of Chinese solar panels

The government in the United States is expected to make a final decision shortly about whether solar panel producers in America will win relief over the longer term having already been successful in winning preliminary duties in relation to solar panels worth billions of dollars imported from China.

This is certainly a high profile case that has also been mirrored by the producers of solar panels across Europe with China threatening some form of retaliation. The outcome, in the main, depends upon the U.S. International Trade Commission deciding if manufacturers of solar panels in America have been “materially injured” by these imports or have been threatened with material injury.

Before Wednesday’s ITC hearing that will examine the case ahead of the panel voting in the early part of November, Tim Brightbill, who is SolarWorld Americas and other USA producers lead attorney said: “We feel we have a very strong injury case. The impact on the domestic industry has just been devastating. I think we’re unfortunately up to 13 companies where there has been either a shutdown or a bankruptcy or significant work layoffs due to the Chinese imports.”

Tom Gutierrez, President of GT Advanced Technologies, is a critic of the duties but cannot see much chance of them not being imposed as makers of such decisions in America only take into account whether producers in the USA have suffered or been threatened by these imports without considering the wider impact these duties may have.

Mr Gutierrez stated: “That’s the fundamental flaw in the process. … Nothing is going to change.”

GT Advanced Technologies export high-technology equipment that is used in the process of solar manufacturing and may suffer if the Chinese do make a decision to retaliate.

Gutierrez forecast: “not a single U.S. job will be created” if duties are imposed by America, although thousands of jobs may be lost within the export and installation sectors.

The U.S. Commerce Department are scheduled to make a final decision about duties on the 10th October. They have set combined preliminary duties of about 35 per cent on the majority of Chinese solar panels.

The final vote, by the ITC, is scheduled for early November and, although it does sometimes happen, it is a rarity for the ITC to decide to reject duties. As many as four commissioners would need to alter the votes they made last year at which time the panel voted 6-0 in favour of the claim that there had been a reasonable indication of material injury.

Solar panel producers in the USA are also hoping that the US Commerce Department will stipulate higher duties when it makes its final decision in a few days time.

They were not happy that preliminary countervailing duties of only 2.90 per cent to 4.73 per cent were set with a view to offsetting subsidies from the Chinese government and that anti-dumping duties totalling around 31 per cent were imposed to offset low prices by the major Chinese exporters and producers.

Gordon Brinser, who is the President of SolarWorld Americas and whose parent company in Germany is also pressing within Europe for duties said: “We don’t feel (the duties) adequately reflect the entire harm or the damage that’s been done to the U.S. industry.

“If you look at the pricing collapse that’s occurred over the past three years, it’s (much more than what was reflected in) those initial duties that were put in place.”

SolarWorld would also like the US Commerce Department to overturn the decision excluding any Chinese solar panels that have been made from cells that were manufactured from outside China from USA duties.

Mr Brinser feels that this initial stance will just encourage the producers of solar panels in China to outsource cell production overseas to avoid American duties.

However, there are non-manufacturing areas within the American solar industry that are concerned that duties could have a negative impact on demand over the long term.

“The irony of the trade case is that at precisely the time we’re making progress in reducing the price of solar, SolarWorld … is trying to increase prices.” stated Kevin Lapidus who is the senior vice president at Sun Edison that are a California-based solar panel installation company.

“Rather than try to push prices higher, the U.S. solar industry needs to find ways to further reduce costs so it can be competitive with fossil fuels.

“SolarWorld and other U.S. manufacturers represent only about 2 to 3 per cent of U.S. solar industry jobs and are jeopardizing the future for the other 97 to 98 per cent.”

Mr Lapidus is also a spokesperson for the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy that estimates there are about 100,000 solar industry jobs in America the majority of which focus on the sales, engineering, design, maintenance and installation of solar systems.

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