A looming trade commission ruling on the surging imports of solar equipment to the U.S. and President Donald Trump's impatience on creating trade barriers are raising fears among many in the solar industry they could see a tariff that stunts the sector's sharp growth.
The U.S. International Trade Commission will decide later this month whether foreign companies are harming U.S. solar cell makers with their shipments of solar equipment into the country. And if it does find damage, it would recommend a remedy — and ultimately hand the final decision off to Trump to decide whether to impose tariffs.
The complaint filed by solar manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld USA to the ITC only needs to show that surging imports harmed the domestic industry, which appears to be backed up by data showing a five-fold increase in imports from 2012 to 2016 and the closure of more than half the U.S. cell manufacturing sites over that period.
Trump has frequently complained that U.S. companies were suffering from unfair competition from foreign countries — particularly China, whose companies dominate solar manufacturing — and he is very likely to support tariffs against the solar imports if the ITC sends the complaint to the White House, according to a senior administration official.
The official said the president is increasingly frustrated with advisers recommending a cautious approach to trade.
But many in the U.S. solar business say that setting up tariffs or floor prices for imports, as Suniva has suggested, could pose some political risks for Trump because of solar technology's broad popularity, as well the growing clout of the workforce that sells and installs the systems.
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