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U.S. solar makers want new tariffs on Asia imports

Illustration of a hurdle with a thin solar panel as the bar.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Solar manufacturers in the U.S. have asked the Commerce Department to investigate whether Chinese rivals are engaging in unfair trade practices.

Why it matters: A similar petition two years ago brought America's deeply Asia-dependent solar sector to a near-standstill.

Catch up fast: China heavily subsidizes its solar sector, enabling its companies to sell panels at a discount that U.S. companies say is unfair.

  • The U.S. under President Trump and then President Biden has imposed tariffs on Chinese solar imports to penalize Beijing for such practices.

The latest: Solar manufacturers in the U.S. say China is getting around the tariffs by working through third parties in Southeast Asia.

  • Seven companies on Tuesday submitted a petition to the Biden administration, asking it impose duties on $12.5 billion of solar equipment imported from Asia, per a Bloomberg report this morning.
  • The petition could lead to tariffs reaching 271.5% as soon as this year.

Flashback: A similar petition led by San Jose-based manufacturer Auxin in 2022 prompted a Commerce Department probe that brought the threat of potentially ruinous retroactive tariffs.

  • U.S. developers, and especially large companies reliant on big orders from China, effectively halted new utility projects. New utility-scale installations that year plummeted 31%.

By the numbers: About 80% of America's imported solar panels come from Southeast Asia.

What's next: Tuesday's petition was brought by manufacturers Convalt Energy, First Solar, Hanwha Qcells USA, Meyer Burger (Americas), Mission Solar Energy, REC Silicon and Swift Solar.

  • A U.S. investigation last summer concluded that Chinese companies were indeed bypassing tariffs by assembling panels in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • The Commerce Department is expected to decide in the next 20 days whether to investigate — and whether to impose preliminary duties.

💭 My thought bubble: This is the latest example of America's climate and domestic manufacturing ambitions running headlong into China's dominance over certain sectors, from electric vehicles and minerals to solar panels.

Go deeper: Axios Pro's Nick Sobczyk dives into the potential political implications.

Go deeper