The International Trade Commission (ITC) on Wednesday 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 on billions of dollars of products from China for the next five years. However, the ITC’s determination finds no critical circumstances were present, which means duties on Chinese solar module imports won’t apply retroactively.

The Commerce Department this May slapped a 31% tariff on 61 Chinese PV producers and exporters with slight variations by company. All other Chinese producers and exporters of the cells will be subject to a tariff of nearly 250%.

On Wednesday, ITC Commissioners Daniel R. Pearson, Shara L. Aranoff, David S. Johanson, and Meredith M. Broadbent voted negatively with respect to critical circumstances. Chairman Irving A. Williamson and Commissioner Dean A. Pinkert voted affirmatively. "As a result of the Commission’s negative determinations regarding critical circumstances, the antidumping and countervailing duty orders concerning these imports will not apply retroactively to goods that entered the United States prior to the date of publication in the Federal Register of the Department of Commerce’s affirmative preliminary determinations," the ITC said in a statement.

The seven-company Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) lauded the ITC’s final determination, which finalizes the dumping case filed in October 2011 by Oregon-based SolarWorld Industries America.

“With this relief, combined with an aggressive domestic enforcement regime, there is hope that the United States can maintain a viable solar manufacturing base, conduct ongoing research and development and continue to make solar an increasingly viable part of the American renewable energy portfolio," said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries.  

The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE)—a group of about 70 solar companies  claiming to represent 98% of U.S. solar sector jobs, which last year set up its own alliance to counter CASM claims—said it was "pleased" the ITC determined that there were no critical circumstances and therefore no reason to apply the tariffs retroactively. "As several witnesses testified at the ITC’s hearing in October, those adversely affected by retroactivity would have been small- and medium-sized U.S. solar businesses that functioned as direct importers and were caught in the middle of SolarWorld’s protectionist case," CASE President Jigar Shah said.

CASE said it would continue to encourage dialogue and negotiation between the U.S. and Chinese governments to seek a constructive resolution. "Unilateral tariffs and a trade war in today’s interconnected global marketplace are unnecessary and detrimental to effective and efficient business competition. Going forward, we must avoid a repeat of the SolarWorld saga, as the growth of the solar industry here, in Europe, and around the world is too important to be upended by one company’s self-serving crusade," Shah said.

Tom Gutierrez, CEO of GT Advanced Technologies, a firm that is a CASE member, predicted that the Commerce Departments tariffs would make solar products more expensive. "It will also make it more difficult for U.S. entrepreneurial companies like GT to export solar products abroad, which further risks the loss of American jobs. Lastly, the tariffs threaten to spark a solar trade war with China, a key U.S. economic partner," he said.

According to the ITC, the U.S. has 14 crystalline silicon photovoltaic module makers, with about 1,900 employees in states across the nation. In 2011, U.S.-produced shipments of crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules were valued at about $790.5 million, while the nation consumed $3.01 billion worth of modules. About 57.4% of all consumed modules were imported from China, goods worth about $1.9 billion.

The ITC is expected to soon release a public report titled Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Cells and Modules from China, which will contain the views of the commissioners and information developed during the investigations.

Sources: POWERnews, ITC, CASM, CASE, GT Advanced Technologies

—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)