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Solar giants seek high US tariffs on Asean panels

Companies complain of unfair price competition from Chinese firms with plants in Southeast Asia

PUBLISHED : 24 Apr 2024 at 22:19

A worker inspects solar panels before they go through the laminating machine at the Irex Energy manufacturing facility in Vung Tau, Vietnam. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Some of the world’s largest solar equipment makers are asking the US government to impose steep tariffs on panels and cells from four Asian countries — Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand — as they seek to protect billions of dollars in investments in US manufacturing.

The group, calling itself the American Alliance for Solar Manufacturing Trade Committee, is accusing Chinese companies with factories in the four Southeast Asian countries of flooding the US market with panels priced below their cost of production.

That has caused prices to collapse by more than 50%, threatening their US-made products, they said.

The US-based solar makers want a government investigation — and duties ranging from 70.4% to 271.5% on the imports, which account for about 80% of the solar panels used in the US. They allege the imports unfairly benefit from tens of billions of dollars in subsidies, including from entities of the Chinese government.

Seven companies — Hanwha Qcells of South Korea, Meyer Burger of Switzerland, REC Silicon of Norway and the US companies First Solar, Convalt Energy, Mission Solar and Swift Solar — are behind the petitions filed with the US Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission.

The petitions comes as the Biden administration has voiced concerns in recent weeks over China’s massive investment in factory capacity for clean energy goods.

The imports from Southeast Asia are estimated to be worth $12.5 billion a year.

The Biden administration has been reluctant to act on previous complaints, with officials saying high tariffs would make solar power projects more expensive at a time when the US is trying to go green.

While another batch of tariffs could bolster US solar manufacturing — a priority for President Joe Biden — the move would risk imperilling another of his goals: accelerating panel installations on farms and rooftops to help combat climate change.

Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act delivered tens of billions of dollars in subsidies for new solar factories. But the country still depends on imports from Asia for most of its panel supply — and domestic manufacturers argue the US government support has been undermined by other federal policies as well as a surge of cheap imports.

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