Ahead of a subcommittee meeting with the Senate, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo raised bipartisan concerns about an anti-dumping probe launched by a petition from a small module maker, Auxin Solar. The investigation could lead to tariffs on solar goods shipped from four Southeast Asian countries that supply about 80% of US polysilicon-based solar panels.
The tariffs can reach up to 250% of the value of goods shipped backdated to November 2021, creating a degree of uncertainty and essentially halting the use of solar energy in the United States. Raimondo elaborated on the figure of 250%, dismissing it as “industry rhetoric” that does not accurately characterize the problem.
“It is true that trade would be justified in levying a tariff at this excessive level,” she said. “It’s extremely unlikely, meaning that the amount of a tariff is reserved only for external cases when you can’t tell the difference between the company and, say, the Chinese Communist Party. The last 150 times we’ve done that since 2012, we’ve come out in the 10, 11, 12 percent range.”
However, records in the Federal Register show that Raimondo’s testimony is false. Since 2012, solar tariffs on Chinese anti-dumping measures have ranged from around 2% to over 100%. In 2017-2018, the median rate was 95.5%.
And for companies that did not directly participate in the investigation, the tariff has been 238.95% every year since 2012.
The investigation has led the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) to cut its forecast for solar power deployment by 46% this year, and House Representative Scott Peters said it could be as high as $100,000 will be Jobs are at stake as a result.
In response to the meeting, SEIA President Abigail Ross Hopper said: “Secretary Raimondo seems to indicate that if anti-circumvention duties were imposed on solar imports, the applicable tariff rates would be relatively low and thus pose little risk to importers. These comments add to the petitioner’s misleading claims about the merits of the petition and the impact of the investigation.”
During the meeting, Senators on both sides of the aisle reminded Raimondo of the urgency of the matter. “We are in a very, very hurry because the solar industry in the United States is at a standstill,” said Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI).
To succeed in this case, Auxin Solar must demonstrate that the manufacture of solar cells is “minor and insignificant processing”. Hopper called this “an absurd claim for anyone with a basic understanding of solar cell manufacturing.”
Schatz argued that the claim that manufacturing in the four Southeast Asian countries was “minor and insignificant” was “superficially untrue.” He added that Commerce has already found in several judgments that the wafer-to-cell conversion taking place in the four countries is a significant service, suggesting that anti-circumvention allegations are invalid.
“I’ve heard from many of you and many in the industry, and I share the sense of urgency,” the secretary said. However, Raimondo distanced herself from the initial investigative process prompted by the petition, saying she was “not involved” and could not discuss the proceedings in detail.
Sen. Schatz added that the authority to administer the process rests with the secretary. He begged the secretary to get more personally involved. Schatz also asked Raimondo to commit to a weekly meeting with the Senate to update the process “with pace,” to which Raimondo agreed.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) asked how the investigation could be quickly ended. “When I asked you that question, you said your hands were tied,” he said, “and I’m trying to figure out how to untie your hands.”
“Legally there is no discretion,” said Raimondo. “We will act as soon as possible.”
Moran challenged the Auxin petition, asking how a “small, individual company with no access to confidential information” could meet the requirements to start the investigation. “Why isn’t there an industry-backed threshold to start this anti-circumvention investigation? Would legislation help?”
Raimondo then suggested to the senator that if legislation were passed to give trade more discretion, he could implement those changes. Moran asked that Commerce and the Senate work together to find ways to revamp the statue the inquest ordered.
“If you buy a solar panel from any of the four affected countries today, you may not know how much you owe in tariffs for months or even years,” Hopper said. “Why would any sane company buy solar panels in such a risky and uncertain business environment?”
“Solar cell manufacturing occurs in many phases and will continue to be a global process until the United States invests seriously in domestic manufacturing,” Hopper said. The call for a long-term industrial manufacturing policy was loud repeated by many players in the solar industry.
The committee meeting can be viewed in full here.
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