U.S. to impose tariffs on Chinese solar panels

Rob Schmitz Mar 21, 2012

Tess Vigeland: Cheap solar panels from China may not be so cheap from here on out. The Commerce Department announced plans to impose tariffs on panels imported from China in retaliation for Chinese subsidies to its solar industry. The U.S. government says those subsidies allow China to sell panels here for less than it costs to make them, taking away American jobs in the process.

But Marketplace China correspondent Rob Schmitz reports it’s not that simple.

Rob Schmitz: Chinese solar panels make up half the American market. Those made in the U.S., just a third. The new tariffs are set at between 3 and 5 percent of the panel’s cost. That’s so low that some U.S. solar panel manufacturers say it may not impact the American market.

Bill Dodson: What it will do is perhaps accelerate China’s own plans to develop its own solar projects here in China.

Bill Dodson is an industry analyst in China. He says the threat of tariffs has already spurred the Chinese government to invest more in solar infrastructure at home.

Dodson: It was clear to them that a counter-measure they could take that would take the heat off any trade friction would be to develop their own domestic market for solar power.

Inexpensive Chinese panels have cut the cost of solar energy globally by about two-thirds. But plunging prices have meant bankruptcy for a few American manufacturers.

Barry Cinnamon is the CEO of Westinghouse Solar, which imports Chinese panels into the U.S. He says low-cost imports mean American jobs.

Barry Cinnamon: I don’t really care if it’s in manufacturing solar panels or putting them on the roof. It’s better for the industry, and obviously it’s better for the environment and economic situation.

He’s relieved that low tariffs have been imposed. That way, he says, the U.S. solar industry will keep growing, but there won’t be a trade war with China — nobody, he says, wants that.

In Shanghai, I’m Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.

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