The PV industry in the US is embroiled in a serious infighting over imports of PV products from China and Southeast Asia. With the enforcement of the Section 201 tariffs set to end in February 2022, a group of anonymous American solar enterprises are now lobbying the US Commerce Department to impose even higher tariffs on modules and cells from other countries, especially imports from Southeast Asia. The reason is that Chinese integrated manufacturers have set up shops in Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia to circumvent the existing tariffs. According to the reporting by various energy news websites, the Commerce Department is in the process of deciding whether to start a new investigation on Chinese manufacturers.
However, the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) has come out explicitly against the petition from the anonymous entities calling for proposed duties of 50-250% on modules imported from Southeast Asia. SEIA is arguing that raising trade barriers on PV products will ruin the progress that the US government has already made in growing the domestic PV market and fighting climate change. Besides that, new tariffs will threaten the livelihoods of more than 230,000 workers in the American PV industry.
SEIA has sent a formal letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo urging that she rejects anonymous petitioners’ request to start an investigation on the potential circumvention of tariffs by Chinese manufacturers. The letter was signed by more than 200 entities in the solar sector including product manufacturers, project developers, EPC firms, project financing firms, and related service providers.
Energy news websites including PV-Tech and E&E News have reported that the anonymous petitioners call themselves “American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention” (A-SMACC). In their letter that was sent to the Commerce Department in August, the group said that Chinese integrated manufacturers have been able to maintain a “monopoly control” over the global PV market by shipping their products to the US from Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Hence, the petitioners demand an investigation that is followed up by new tariffs and restrictions.
SEIA in its letter said that A-SMACC’s request “directly contradicts” what domestic manufacturers for PV products have demanded from the government when it comes to international trade cases. The proposed duties also work against the ongoing review on the extension of the Section 201 tariffs. SEIA added that A-SMACC has designed its petition in a way that prevent “a full and fair inquiry” into whether cells and modules from the three Southeast Asian countries are being subsidized or dumped into the US at excessively low prices.
SEIA’s own data show that Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand together account for around 80% of the modules imported to the US. Therefore, the industry association is contesting the petition on the grounds of it being extreme, contrary to normal procedure, and against free trade. SEIA in its letter further pointed out that A-SMACC seems to ignore the fact that many American manufacturers for PV products import cells and modules from the three Southeast Asian countries. SEIA is also claiming that the proposed duties could cut the deployment of PV generation capacity in the US by 18GW by 2023.
Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of SEIA, said that the petition for higher duties is “reckless” and constitutes a threat to the lives of thousands of American families if it is granted by Commerce Department. Hopper pointed out that A-SMACC wants the government to overturn the existing laws as well as the precedents related to the international trade of PV products over the last decade. Hopper further accused these few disaffected petitioners of attempting to sacrifice the growth of the entire domestic PV industry for their own benefits.
Law firm Wiley Rein that represents A-SMACC released a public statement in August asserting that the anonymous petitioners simply want American manufacturers to have an equal footing with Chinese counterparts. The law firm further said that for a long time, Chinese manufacturers have been able to evade the existing anti-dumping and countervailing duties. This, in turn has negatively impacted the domestic supply chain and put the “clean energy future” of the US “at risk”. A-SMACC is asking its own country to assume leadership in this “critical” industrial sector.
The petitioners will continue to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliations by SEIA. However, NextEra Energy, which is a major PV project developer and one of the largest utilities in the US, has formally requested the Commerce Department to compel A-SMACC to disclose the identities of its members. NextEra is also asking the department to set a deadline for the submission of comments related to the initiation of the anti-circumvention investigation. The department has confirmed this development with PV-Tech.
Due to the increasing tensions between the US and China, the PV industry in the US has become divided over whether to support tariffs and import restrictions. Besides the Section 201 tariffs and the additional tariffs that were introduced by the Trump Administration, the issue of polysilicon produced in Xinjiang is also generating a lot of operational pressure on American solar enterprises.