Sep 29, 2017

Solar tariff advocates, foes prep for next battle

Solar panels that are part of the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association's community gardens. Photo: Jim Mone / AP

Advocates and opponents of new penalties on imported solar panels are girding for the next phase of the battle now that the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has found that imports are a substantial cause of harm to the domestic manufacturing sector.

Why it matters: The wider solar industry and its allies strongly opposes the tariffs that two financially distressed panel manufacturers—Suniva and SolarWorld Americas—are seeking. Solar energy developers and their allies say the tariffs will cause panel prices to shoot up so much that many future energy projects will become uneconomic, industry growth will slow and jobs will be lost.

Parties on both sides have been flooding the ITC with briefs on proposed policies in recent days ahead of a public hearing Oct. 3, which will be followed by ITC recommendations to the White House in mid-November.

One big question: Whether the remainder of the ITC process will affect what President Trump ultimately decides, because the White House, under U.S. trade law, has lots of leeway to decide how to address the commission's injury finding.

While a number of detailed submissions have arrived at the ITC in recent days, tariff opponents have already begun shifting their focus to making the case to the White House directly:

  • "Several of the briefs publicly posted to date rely on past Section 201 trade cases as barometers of what the U.S. ITC can recommend, and what President Trump can implement. However ... tradition seems unlikely to unduly constrain Trump's policy decisions," says Timothy Fox, an analyst with ClearView Energy Partners, in an email to Axios.
  • "Despite what the U.S. ITC recommendations, his decision may largely be a political one, and input from the White House officials may outweigh the considerations offered by the Commission," he said.

Big picture: While the White House has not tipped its hand, the case gives Trump a near-term chance to act on his hawkish trade stance. Asia is a major source of low-cost panel exports to the U.S., including products from Chinese-owned companies that operate outside of China itself, which is already subject to prior trade restrictions.

Pro-tariff: "The crisis caused by foreign market overcapacity now facing the U.S. CSPV cell and module industry is so extreme, the financial losses so great, that, to be effective, any remedy that is recommended to the President by the Commission must be bold, extensive, and multifaceted," states Suniva's new brief.

That brief lays out their recommended tariffs on imported cells and modules (albeit somewhat lower than they initially sought), as well as other proposals, like an executive order requiring government agencies to use U.S.-made equipment.

SolarWorld Americas, which has a German parent company, delivered a brief as well recommending a combined system of tariffs and quotas, calling on the ITC to address domestic panel industry's losses "that have already caused numerous solar producers to shut down and that threaten many others."

Industry ask: A summary of the newly filed brief from the umbrella Solar Energy Industries Association — which is fighting the Suniva-SolarWorld petition — shows they're asking the ITC to recommend policies to help U.S. manufacturers in lieu of tariffs, including:

  • Up to $10 million annually in Commerce Department-led technical assistance, with help from Energy Department experts.
  • Trade adjustment assistance via the Labor Department, such as training, job-hunting assistance and financial aid to "adversely affected" workers.

SEIA also says that if the ITC does recommend tariffs, they should be far lower than what the two manufacturers are seeking. They warn that the tariffs Suniva and SolarWorld want could lead to over 62,000 job losses next year and more thereafter.

The world is watching: The ITC case file is packed with submissions opposing tariffs from governments, companies and trade associations in Asia, including Chinese companies, the government of Korea, and others.

However, the opposition is broader. For instance, in a newly filed pre-hearing brief, the Mexican government argues that imposition of new safeguards for domestic producers would run afoul of the World Trade Organization and NAFTA principles.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 5,463,392 — Total deaths: 344,503 — Total recoveries — 2,195,325Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 1,653,904 — Total deaths: 97,948 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Italy reports lowest number of new coronavirus cases since February

Italy’s aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori fly over Milan in Duomo Square on May 25. Photo: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

The Italian government reported 300 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Feb. 29.

Why it matters: Italy, the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown after emerging as a hotspot in March, appears to have finally weathered its coronavirus outbreak. Italy has reported nearly 33,000 total deaths, the third-highest total behind the U.S. and U.K.

Joe Biden makes first public appearance in over two months

Photo: Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in over two months on Monday to honor Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a Delaware veterans park, AP reports.

Why it matters: Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, has taken the unprecedented step of campaigning from his home during the coronavirus pandemic, ever since canceling a rally in Cleveland on March 10.