Trade probe of solar imports from Thailand, 3 other countries poses threat to US projects

Trade probe of solar imports from Thailand, 3 other countries poses threat to US projects

A potential Commerce Department probe of solar imports from Southeast Asia has the potential to freeze investment in the United States, industry leaders warned on Tuesday.

The agency is set to decide by Mar 25 whether to formally investigate whether solar products from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia circumvent longstanding solar tariffs. An investigation could expose the imports to retroactive duties of 50% to 250%, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said on Tuesday.

The four countries supply about 80% of US solar imports and the risk of trade restrictions could drag down shipments. The trade dispute threatens to intensify existing headwinds for the US solar industry, which is already seeing slower growth amid higher costs, shipping delays and supply chain disruptions. That is a challenge to President Joe Biden’s efforts to rapidly boost renewable power projects nationwide. 

“It’s just not a rational business risk to put product on the water and send it here when you don’t know what it’s going to cost when it gets here,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s chief executive officer.

Commerce is responding to a petition from Auxin Solar, a small California-based manufacturer. The key issue is whether Chinese manufacturers already subject to tariffs are circumventing those duties by assembling their products in the four Southeast Asian nations.

About 13% of utility-scale solar capacity scheduled for completion in 2022 has already been delayed by at least a year or outright cancelled due to the higher costs, disruption and policy uncertainty in Washington, SEIA has said. Developers have warned the Biden administration that the Commerce Department decision would compound those challenges, and potentially tens of thousands of American jobs hang in the balance.

“The entire solar industry is watching what the Commerce Department does,” Hopper said. “It’s hard to overstate what it would mean -- just the initiation of an investigation.”

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