Commerce says petitioners can’t be anonymous in latest solar panel tariff development

The Department of Commerce has requested additional information from a group of anonymous U.S. solar manufacturers in connection with a petition to review Chinese solar panel companies allegedly circumventing anti-dumping and countervailing duties (AD/CV) by manufacturing parts of their product in three Southeast Asian Countries.

“We have reviewed your submissions and determined that we need additional information to address certain threshold issues before we can consider the merits of your requests for anti-circumvention decisions,” Abdelali Elouaradia, Commerce Department’s office director, said in a Sept. 29 letter to the law firm Wiley Rein LLP, which represents the petitioners American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention (A-SMACC).

The group has until October 6, 2021 to provide Commerce with further evidence of tariff evasion by Chinese companies operating in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, after which the department will initiate a 45-day review.

Solar advocacy group SEIA, which had asked Commerce to reject the petition outright, said it was disappointed with this decision to continue the review.

“However, the details and nature of the questions Commerce has put to anonymous petitioners clearly indicate that petitioners have submitted an application that is largely devoid of the information the department needs to assess whether this case should be launched,” it said. Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA President and CEO. “We believe that if and if the submitters change their original submission, it will become abundantly clear that they have no reason to circumvent.”

In August, A-SMACC filed a petition with the Ministry of Commerce asking for an investigation into Chinese silicon solar panel manufacturers operating in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam in order to avoid AD/CV charges. Since 2012, various forms of these levies have been imposed on Chinese solar energy producers. Imports of silicon solar energy from China are subject to an additional tax from the Ministry of Commerce. According to the petition, some Chinese companies have relocated some of their production capacity to other Southeast Asian countries in a possible attempt to evade the tax.

A-SMACC has asked Commerce to elaborate on specific Chinese companies operating in the three countries mentioned:

  • Malaysia: JinkoSolar, LONGi (and affiliates), JA Solar
  • Thailand: Canadian Solar, Trina Solar, Talesun Solar, Astroenergy
  • Vietnam: Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, Sunergy, Boviet Solar, GCL, LONGi (and affiliates), JinkoSolar

The petitioners want additional tariffs ranging from 50 to 250% on imports from the above companies. Commerce has requested additional information to determine whether the petition is valid.

One of Commerce’s requests is identification of the anonymous members of A-SMACC and their related activities in the solar industry. Commerce also asks about the reasons why the anonymous members feel they will receive retaliation from the Chinese companies if they are mentioned.

In addition, Commerce wants to know where A-SMACC members import the solar cells used in their US panels, and whether they have operations in Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam.

This petition has already sent ripples through the US solar industry. About 80% of U.S. imports of crystalline silicon solar modules in the first half of 2021 came from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, with 59% of the country’s total supply of modules coming from those three countries. SEIA and several solar installers stated in a press conference this week that deliveries of solar modules from those countries have already been halted and thousands of jobs are at stake.

With no domestic silicon solar cell manufacturers and a domestic module production capacity of less than 8 GW, the United States depends on solar module imports to meet demand. The country is expected to install 30 GW of solar power in 2022 and 32 GW in 2023. Without supplies from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, SEIA has predicted that installation will drop to less than 26 GW in 2022 and 18 GW in 2023 – or a loss of 18 GW over the next two years.

One reason behind A-SMACC’s petition is that further tariffs would boost domestic production, but with the time and financial investment required to start domestic cell production and increase module assembly capacity, installation numbers will suffer. And any drop in projected solar installations would put the country further behind in meeting the Biden government’s clean energy goals.

“The growth of the US solar supply chain is critical,” Hopper said earlier this week. “Long-term policies that boost solar demand and encourage a healthy manufacturing sector could fuel a strong U.S. manufacturing renaissance. However, unnecessary and harmful tariffs are not the solution.”

This latest request from Commerce to submitters resets the 45-day initiation window. A-SMACC has until October 6 to provide more information, after which Commerce can make a final decision on November 22.

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