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US lawmakers debate solar trade fixes

3 Oct 2017, 5.37 pm GMT

US lawmakers debate solar trade fixes

Washington, 3 October (Argus) — US lawmakers today took turns arguing for and against tariffs on imported solar products as trade officials considered the next steps for protecting domestic manufacturers.

Members of Congress who represent districts or states that are home to struggling solar manufacturers called on the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to impose tariffs on imported solar cells and modules to help the US companies compete with foreign suppliers.

"I urge the commission to recommend a remedy robust enough to repair the serious injury already experienced by the US solar manufacturing sector," senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said at an ITC hearing. Oregon is home to a plant run by SolarWorld Americas, which along with Suniva has asked the commission to impose the tariffs.

Wyden called on the regulators to protect an industry that "will not survive without effective relief," citing the companies' claim that 30 US solar manufacturers have failed since 2010.

US representative Suzanne Bonamici (D), who represents the district where the Hillsboro, Oregon, plant is located, argued for a "thoughtful and strong remedy."

"The jobs lost at SolarWorld were good jobs in an important industry, one in which our nation should be leading," Bonamici said. SolarWorld has cut hundreds of jobs in her district in recent months.

The ITC last month determined the US industry is being harmed from unfair competition from imported solar cells and modules. The parts are often priced at levels lower than what US companies can compete with, which has forced some of them out of business, petition supporters say.

The commission is now determining what remedy to recommend. Their decision, which could include a combination of tariffs, price floors or quotas, could disrupt all parts of the solar value chain and result in a net loss of 88,000 US jobs, petition opponents say.

Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) warned enacting tariffs would lead to "major price increases" and harm the broader industry. New Mexico has attracted $1.5bn in solar investment and created 3,000 jobs, he said.

SolarWorld and Suniva are requesting a tariff for solar cells of 25¢/watt, which would drop a half-cent each year for the following three years. Suniva also wants a 78¢/watt floor for modules. SolarWorld, instead of a price floor, has said it supports a quota on each type of part.

The ITC will send its final recommendation to President Donald Trump in November. Trump has said he wants to revise trade laws to help US manufacturers compete against what he describes as unfair foreign competition.

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