Trump Hits Imported Solar Energy Products With Tariffs

· Jan. 23, 2018, 12:07 am
Photo: Solar Trade 3 | Sun At Work - JHillJim Hill/CPR News
One of several pallets of solar panels that are stocked in Namaste Solar's Boulder, Colo., warehouse. Namaste, who imports panes from South Korea, Malaysia and Mexico, worries that possible trade tariffs could increase the cost of solar energy projects.

President Donald Trump has approved tariffs on imported solar-energy components and large washing machines in a bid to help U.S. manufacturers.

The president on Monday approved recommendations by the U.S. International Trade Commission to impose the tariffs. The administration cast the moves as part of Trump's pledge to put American companies and jobs first.

Most imported solar modules will face an immediate tariff of 30 percent, with the rate declining before phasing out after four years.

For large residential washing machines, tariffs will start at up to 50 percent and phase out after three years.

The U.S. solar industry was split over the trade barriers.

The tariffs were sought by Suniva, which filed for bankruptcy protection last year, and the U.S. subsidiary of Germany's SolarWorld. They said that a nearly 500 percent increase in imported solar panels over five years led to a ruinous price collapse, which they blamed on Chinese solar companies.

"The president's action makes clear again that the Trump administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses in this regard," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement announcing the decision.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents solar installers, said the tariff would lead to the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars of investment in solar energy and the loss of 23,000 industry jobs this year.

One of the group's members, Bill Vietas, president of RBI Solar in Cincinnati, said the industry has been growing over the past five years. "Government tariffs will increase the cost of solar and depress demand, which will reduce the orders we're getting and cost manufacturing workers their jobs," he said.

Whirlpool issued a statement from Chairman Jeff Fettig saying that the decision on washing machines would create new manufacturing jobs in Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

"This is a victory for American workers and consumers alike," Fettig said. "By enforcing our existing trade laws, President Trump has ensured American workers will compete on a level playing field with their foreign counterparts."

Suniva and SolarWorld were helped by a 1974 trade law that lets companies seek trade protection if they can show damage from a rise in imports.

Congress has no authority to change or veto Trump's decision. Countries affected by the decision can appeal to the World Trade Organization.

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