On Tuesday, the much-anticipated public hearing by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on the Suniva and SolarWorld Section 201 trade case was held in Washington, D.C., with both sides making lengthy arguments for and against tariffs on imported solar equipment in front of a huge crowd.
Suniva and SolarWorld made their case for imposing tariffs by focusing on the sharp increase in imports into the U.S., loss of domestic solar manufacturing capacity, and job losses due to the closure of tens of manufacturing units around the country in the past five years. The two companies are requesting a $0.40/W tariff on imported solar cells and a $0.78/W tariff on imported modules for four years.
Suniva Attorney Matthew McConkey said, “Are we supposed to believe the almost 30 members of the domestic industry that have gone out of business over the last five years, all of them made bad decisions while companies in Korea (and other countries) were so brilliant? Please.”
SolarWorld CEO Juergen Stein said, “Quite simply, we need the commission’s help to save solar manufacturing in the United States.”
The first lesson from this hearing is to get organized. According to Indian government agencies, no objections or representation against the petition have been received from any stakeholders to-date in the Indian anti-dumping case. In the U.S., there was strong pushback from the project development side represented by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). In a statement, SEIA made some strong points against the petitioners. According to SEIA, Suniva and SolarWorld failed not because of imports but instead because they failed to innovate and deliver quality products at scale.
The second lesson is to mobilize support. Both parties in the U.S. case recruited their local congressional representatives to help make their cases. Turnout for the hearing was very strong and several solar downstream companies testified against the petitioners. These witnesses made some important points and alleged unfair trade practices by the petitioners, claiming that they actually imported Asian-made products and labeled them as made in the U.S. These solar companies also said that Suniva and SolarWorld did not have any substantial market share in the large and growing utility‑scale sector because they lacked a 72-cell module. Solar companies also questioned the bankability and liquidity of the petitioners.
Even with such strong testimony, the petitioners still have a strong case and there is a good chance that a tariff might still be imposed but at a lower level than what was originally petitioned for.
The third lesson is to do your homework and lay out the worst case scenario. Both sides made passionate pleas and clearly showed dire consequences could follow if the decision did not come out in their favor. They showed the impact on their respective areas and the potential job losses on both sides. What may make a difference is the strong opposing presence from the rest of the solar industry, claims by SEIA that about 88,000 jobs may be lost if a tariff is imposed, and a letter from 69 members of Congress on behalf of their constituents asking the commission to not impose tariffs.
This was the first hearing in this case and will be followed by an ITC decision on September 22, 2017 on whether or not there was harm to domestic solar manufacturers. If the ITC finds that domestic manufacturers were harmed, there will be another hearing on October 3, 2017 followed by the issuance of ITC recommendations to President Donald Trump on November 13, 2017. The President will then decide whether to accept the ITC recommendations or not on January 12, 2018. If the President agrees with the ITC recommendations, January 27, 2018 will be the effective date of remedy.
Incidentally, the provisional duty in the India solar antidumping case can also be announced on September 22, 2017, the same day as the U.S. decision.
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Raj Prabhu is a recognized thought leader in clean energy markets where his work has influenced policies worldwide. He has a deep understanding of regulatory policy and clean energy markets and his market and opinion pieces are regularly published on both MercomIndia.com and other leading publications globally. Raj is also a regular speaker and presenter on clean energy policy and finance topics at conferences worldwide. Raj attended the KLE College of Science in Bangalore, India for physics and chemistry, and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Hotel and Institutional Management from Johnson and Wales University, Rhode Island. More articles from Raj Prabhu.