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First Solar, Qcells and others launch AD/CVD petition to DOC

published: 2024-04-25 17:58

A group of US-based solar manufacturers have filed an antidumping and countervailing duty (AD/CVD) petition to the US Department of Commerce (DOC) and International Trade Commission (ITC), alleging “potentially illegal trade practices by Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam that are injuring the US solar industry”.

Major silicon-based manufacturers Qcells, Meyer Burger and REC Silicon and cadmium-telluride (CdTe) thin-film manufacturer First Solar are joined by smaller players – including New York-based Convalt Solar whose stated aim is to “make solar American again” – under the banner of the American Alliance for Solar Manufacturing Trade Committee. The petition is seeking an investigation into the practices of solar manufacturers in the four named countries.

The AD/CVD tariff saga has been ongoing in the US for over two years. In short, mostly Chinese-owned solar manufacturers have been repeatedly accused of circumventing US trade tariffs on Chinese products by rerouting their operations via Southeast-Asian facilities for what the DOC called “minor processing”. This allowed them to engage in alleged price “dumping”, introducing uncompetitively low-priced products to the market.

In August 2023, the DOC ultimately found five manufacturers guilty of circumventing the tariffs: Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, BYD Hong Kong, New East Solar and LONGi-owned Vina Solar. However, a two-year waiver on the tariffs introduced by Joe Biden has meant that no AD/CVD tariffs have yet been paid.

In its recent petition, Tim Brightbill, co-chair of Wiley Rein LLP International Trade Practice and lead counsel to the American Alliance for Solar Manufacturing Trade Committee said: “We are seeking to enforce the rules, remedy the injury to our domestic solar industry, and signal that the US will not be a dumping ground for foreign solar products.”

He continued: “America’s solar manufacturing industry is on the cusp of tremendous growth that will create jobs and change the trajectory of our clean energy transition for decades to come. However, this manufacturing renaissance is being threatened by China’s industrial policy, which has led to massive subsidisation in China and Southeast Asia.”

Previous AD/CVD cases were mostly brought by Auxin Solar, a small California-based solar manufacturer. This case is notable for the size of its petitioners; First Solar, in particular, is the largest PV manufacturer in the US by volume.

The DOC announced a final ruling on AD/CVD in March, tightening up enforcement of the tariffs to include transnational subsidies (investment into third countries), the most famous example of which is China’s Belt and Road initiative. This has the potential to change enforcement for Chinese-owned solar companies in Southeast Asia.

This latest development follows robust language from the US secretary of the treasury, Janet L Yellen, who said earlier this month that the current administration “wouldn’t want to rule out” further trade defences for solar, “where we think that massive investment in China is creating some overcapacity.”

Rhetoric is split

However, not all parts of the industry are in favour of further legal action. The rhetoric is split between those claiming to protect US manufacturers’ rights and those seeking to avoid solar deployment delays.

The CEO of US solar tracker manufacturer Array Technologies said: “This case is bad news for clean energy jobs and American solar manufacturing.

“We need to keep growing solar deployment to create jobs and bolster our energy independence. More duties will only cause uncertainty and unnecessary project delays, holding the US back in meeting our clean energy deployment and manufacturing goals.  

“The Department of Commerce should reject this harmful petition so the solar industry can focus on innovation, investment, and job creation.”

Two US trade bodies have also commented on the most recent lawsuit. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said: ““We are deeply concerned the AD/CVD petitions will lead to further market volatility across the US solar and storage industry and create uncertainty at a time when we need effective solutions that support US solar manufacturers.

“We need constructive actions, like the Advanced Manufacturing Tax Credit and other policies, to expand domestic solar manufacturing and deploy clean energy at scale and speed to serve growing electricity demand.”

This echoes sentiments expressed in January when Auxin Solar – the original petitioner in the AD/CVD saga – opened a fresh lawsuit against the DOC claiming that it was supporting a “lawless” marketplace by upholding President Biden’s waiver. At that time, solar industry members said that the suit was unhelpful and, if successful, could hinder the US’ progress towards net zero and meeting its solar deployment targets.

However, the Solar Energy Manufacturers for America (SEMA) coalition took a different tone. Executive director, Mike Carr said: ““This doesn’t come as a surprise. Everyone knows these Chinese-headquartered companies in Southeast Asia are benefiting from subsidies and exporting below-cost solar into the US market, harming American solar manufacturers and their workers.

“Conditions are untenable for American solar manufacturers. SEMA will continue to fight for strong trade enforcement and onshoring our supply chain so American companies can thrive and we can usher in a new era of clean energy independence.”

The DOC will consider whether to open investigations into companies in Southeast Asia within 20 days of today’s filing.


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