The United States Commerce Department announced on Tuesday a preliminary decision to impose duties on solar cells and panels imported from China, a move that has been pushed by US solar companies that have accused China of subsidizing its counterparts.
The decision issued a preliminary duty of 2.9 percent on Wuxi-based Suntech Power Holdings, the world's biggest manufacturer of PV solar panels, and a preliminary duty of 4.73 percent on Changzhou-based Trina Solar, another major Chinese producer. All other Chinese solar panel producers and exporters received a duty rate of 3.61 percent.
Shares in Chinese solar companies, such as Sun-Tech, Trina Solar and Yingli Green Energy, quickly surged on the New York Stock Exchange after the announcement, a sign that investors are taking the tariff rates as relatively low.
Both Suntech and Trina are active players in the US market and have operations in the US.
"This initial decision reflects the reality that Suntech's global success is based on free and fair competition. Nonetheless, unilateral trade barriers, large or small, will further delay our transition away from fossil fuels at a time when the majority of Americans demand cleaner and more secure energy such as solar," said Andrew Beebe, Suntech's chief commercial officer, in a statement.
"Regardless whether tariffs are imposed on solar cells from China, we can provide our customers in the US with hundreds of megawatts of high-quality and affordable solar products that are not subject to tariffs. As a local manufacturer with production in Arizona, we will continue to remain an active member of the American solar industry and maintain focus on making solar energy affordable for everyone, everywhere," Beebe added.
According to JA Solar marketing director Zhang Xiaofeng, the tariff is much less than what was anticipated, which was about 20 percent to 30 percent. They will move forward in the US market if there is no additional increase in duties when preliminary antidumping tariffs are released in May, she said.
"If the tariff is similar to this, i.e. 3-4 percent, adding them together is about 8 percent, then there is nothing solar companies should worry about," Zhang said.
This decision is another step following last fall's trade petition from SolarWorld and a group of American solar manufacturers claiming Chinese subsidized solar panel producers have pushed their American counterparts out of jobs.
But other industry players don't share this view. They say low prices offered by Chinese solar panel makers benefit American customers as well as help create installation jobs in the US.
Mark Kingsley, chief commercial officer at Trina Solar, said what the US has done will only create a "lose-lose" situation in the end, and it is "a sad disconnect from the truth."
Kingsley said one manufacturing job Trina has in Changzhou will create about four jobs in the US.
A recent study by the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) showed that a 100 percent or 50 percent tariff on imported modules would kill about 50,000 or 43,000 American jobs respectively over the next three years.
But Chinese companies are doing more than just creating jobs.
Trina Solar, partnered with New Jersey-based NRG Energy and the Clinton Global Initiative foundation, recently donated 300 PV solar panels to a humanitarian project in Haiti.
"Thanks to China's skills, solar power is so affordable that it can help address these real world problems," Kingsley said after a visit to Trina's solar panels installation sites in Haiti.
In 2011, the US imported $3.1 billion worth of solar cells and panels from China, according to the Commerce Department.
The Commerce Department will continue to investigate allegations of the solar panels and solar cells being dumped, or sold at less than normal value. It will announce preliminary anti-dumping duties in May and a final decision on the countervailing duties will be made in early June.
Qidong Zhang in San Francisco contributed to this story.
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