UPDATED: Commerce to Begin New Antidumping Duty Probes of PV Products from China, Taiwan

The U.S. Commerce Department will begin fresh antidumping and countervailing duty investigations of imports of certain crystalline silicon photovoltaic products from China, as well as an antidumping duty investigation of imports from Taiwan.

The department announced today that the scope of the new investigations, petitioned for by SolarWorld Industries, specifically excludes products covered by existing antidumping and countervailing duties. These include crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells that are thicker than 20 micrometers, as well as modules, laminates and/or panels consisting of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, whether or not partially or fully assembled into other products, including building integrated materials.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) is now expected to make its preliminary injury determinations on or before Feb. 14, 2014. If the ITC determines a “reasonable indication” that imports from China and/or Taiwan materially injure the U.S. domestic solar industry, the investigations are expected to continue. The Commerce Department could then make its preliminary determinations in March 2014 and June 2014.

Earlier this week, China announced final antidumping and anti-subsidy duties against imports of U.S. solar-grade polysilicon that are in line with preliminary duties levels set last year. China’s Commerce Ministry set final antidumping duties at up to 57%, though it kept anti-subsidy duties at 2.1%, lower than the 6.5% limit previously announced. It also set antidumping duties of between 2.14% and 12.3% on South Korean polysilicon. The duties are expected to be effective immediately and last five years.

The U.S. ITC in November 2012 unanimously determined that imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules from China materially injured the U.S. industry, clearing the way for the Commerce Department to issue antidumping and countervailing duties of between 31% and 250% on Chinese producers. Those tariffs, however, sparked strong disagreement among U.S. solar manufacturers.

In 2012, imports of certain crystalline silicon photovoltaic products from China and Taiwan were valued at an estimated $2.1 billion and $513.5 million, respectively.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), which represents about 250 businesses (seven of which are U.S. domestic producers of crystalline silicon solar technology), criticized China’s imposition of “retaliatory” duties against U.S. and South Korean producers of polysilicon after adjudication that was “neither transparent nor shown to be supported by facts.” The group said the duties would harm U.S. producers.

“China’s retaliation against the U.S. industry violates international trade rules,” said Mukesh Dulani, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., an entity of SolarWorld AG, Germany’s largest solar-panel maker.  “Time and time again, these retaliatory cases have been found to be without merit.” SolarWorld leads the CASM coalition.

But, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), which says it “represents the majority of the U.S. solar industry” and is organized to “protect the thriving U.S. solar industry from the reckless self-interest of a single foreign company,” opposed SolarWorld’s petitions.

“The government shouldn’t reward or protect one German company that is not fitting into the thriving global solar industry,” said CASE President Jigar Shah. “It also should not punish the American companies that have found a job-creating niche in that same industry. The prosecution of this trade case is not going to solve the problem of promoting American manufacturing—it will just disrupt the industry.”

Between 2011 and 2012, solar module prices dropped 44%, which prompted a solar capacity increase of 71% over the same period, CASE said. The organization also claims that “because solar largely attracts residential customers by offering them electricity at prices lower than the price of utility power, SolarWorld’s tariffs could have the effect of pricing much of the solar industry out of the U.S. marketplace.” It added, however: “In this case it is not clear how even SolarWorld would benefit from such a sharp decline in demand.”

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

UPDATE (01/24): Adds comments from the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy.

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