Last month the International Trade Commission (ITC) agreed to proceed with a trade case filed by the bankrupt solar manufacturing American company Suniva. Suniva has claimed that the current import price for certain photovoltaic solar panels is so low that it was damaging the US manufacturing industry and the only way to protect US manufacturers would be to levy a tariff on panel imports – the result would be to more than double the price of solar panels to $0.78/watt, potentially igniting a solar trade war.
In order to prove its case, Suniva needs to show that the solar manufacturing industry in the US has been, and will be, “seriously” harmed by foreign imports – the petition was filed under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. Last used 14 years ago, Section 201 requires that imports are the “substantial cause” of serious injury to the industry (perhaps worth noting that Suniva’s largest creditor, SQN Capital Management, suggested in a letter to a Chinese solar trade group that if a buyer for Suniva’s obligations was found, SQN would withdraw its support from the Section 201 case).
PV manufacturing accounts for just a few thousand of the nearly 300,000 solar jobs in the US, however, President Trump has pointed to Section 201 as “a vital tool for industries needing temporary relief from imports to become more competitive.”
The stakes are high – obviously for the US solar industry, but the impacts would range far and wide, from projects being shelved to technology shifts, to the rest of the global market being flooded with cheap solar. This could also be the opening shot on what could become a true solar trade war.