The U.S. Department of Commerce officials said that an investigation would be launched into solar modules being imported from the Southeast Asian countries – Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
In its petition to the Department of Commerce, Auxin Solar, a California-based solar module manufacturer, alleged that Chinese manufacturers shifted production to the four Asian nations circumventing the U.S. duties — antidumping (A.D) and countervailing duties (CVD). Authorities in the department are mulling the imposition of tariffs on modules imported from the four nations.
While developers in the U.S. who rely on imports from the four countries are broadly criticizing the department’s move, the probe aims to bar the flow of cheaper Asian modules that manufacturers in the U.S. claim make their products non-competitive in the market.
Last month, Auxin Solar filed a petition with the department to initiate a nationwide probe to determine whether crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules containing such cells produced in Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam use parts and components from China. And whether it circumvents the AD and CVD orders on solar cells and modules.
Addressing the grievances, the department had extended the deadline to initiate the probe by fifteen days on March 9, 2022.
Why the inquiry?
Auxin Solar submitted a detailed description with a summary of the merchandise allegedly circumventing the orders (AD and CVD). The manufacturer provided the department with names of solar producers, exporters, and importers of the relevant merchandise — detailing excerpts of the country-wide circumvention.
Listed here are a few allegations leveled by Auxin Solar against the imports –
- Class of the imported merchandise: Auxin accessed the shipping data of companies in Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, which show the alleged compromised solar equipment was exported to the U.S. It alleged that the merchandise which arrived in the U.S. was under the tariff set by the four Asian countries — detailing their transactions with China.
- Raw materials imported from China: Auxin provided evidence showing certain solar producers in the four Asian countries obtained wafers, silver paste, silane, solar glass, aluminum frames, ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), among other raw materials from China. It is alleged that 70% of the actual value of the equipment imported to the U.S. from the four Asian nations accrues to China, where all the production of solar-grade silicon, ingots, wafers, and cells takes place.
- Investments in third countries: Auxin pointed out that the investments in Chinese polysilicon enrichment facilities were between $643 million to $2.1 billion, whereas the Chinese solar conglomerates’ investments in solar cell and/or module facilities in the third countries ranged from as little as $7.7 million to a maximum of $160 million, which are faster to construct than the polysilicon facilities.
- Expenditure on R&D by Chinese owners: Auxin alleged that solar cells and module processors in the aforementioned Asian nations rely on research and development (R&D), which is performed by their owners in China, instead of developing their technology. Auxin cited that the financial statements do not identify R&D as a principal business or activity of the subsidiaries in the third countries at issue. The R&D expenses for them are not separately identified on the financial statements.
Reactions to the investigation
Trade groups in the U.S solar industry have criticized the investigation sought by Auxin Solar and said that it would immediately impact many projects in the pipeline and harm America’s progress in addressing climate change.
Referring to the development, ACP CEO Heather Zichal observed, “Overnight, the Commerce Department ignored precedent and subsequently drove a stake through the heart of planned solar projects and choked off up to 80% of the solar panel supply the U.S. It must fix this now. American workers will bear the pain of the decision to allow one rogue antagonist to abuse and manipulate trade laws for their gain.”
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association CEO, “Solar prices are increasing, federal climate legislation is stalled, and trade restrictions are compounding. Commerce should quickly end this investigation to mitigate the harm it will cause for American workers and our nation’s efforts to tackle climate change.”
Last year, Mercom had reported a similar development where the U.S. Department of Commerce rejected a circumvention petition filed by an anonymous group of domestic solar manufacturers known as American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention (A-SMACC). The department had explicitly pointed to the anonymity of A-SMACC and said it was the sole reason for the rejection. The department had also ruled that the names of A-SMACC members be made public so interested parties could comment on the nature of their involvement in the matter.
Early this year, the Biden administration extended the Section 201 solar tariffs imposed on imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic (CSPV) modules for four more years, with several modifications. The decision included the exemption of bifacial solar panels from the duty extension and increased the allowable import quota for solar cells from 2.5 GW to 5 GW.