Imported solar panels and washing machines hit with tariff

Photo (c) Alessandro2802 - Getty Images

Trump Administration said it acted to protect U.S. jobs

The Trump Administration has approved tariffs on imports of solar energy cells and modules, as well as large residential washing machines.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he made the recommendation to President Trump after determining that U.S. companies that produce both products have been hurt by foreign manufacturers' trade practices.

“These cases were filed by American businesses and thoroughly litigated at the International Trade Commission over a period of several months,” Lighthizer said. “The ITC found that U.S. producers had been seriously injured by imports and made several recommendations to the President."

Higher prices for consumers

Lighthizer said the actions are designed to defend American jobs. For consumers, the result could be higher prices for both washing machines and solar panels.

Solar panel importers will have to pay the tariff for four years. In the first year, the tariff on cells and modules will start at 30 percent, with percentages falling in increments of five percent over the following three years.Two-point-five gigawatt cells are exempt from the tariff.

The solar tariff was triggered by complaints from some U.S. solar manufacturers, but the action drew a dismayed reaction from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), whose members include installers, who worry more expensive solar panels will lead to job losses.

Job-loss concerns

“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” said SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper.

SEIA estimates there were 38,000 jobs in solar manufacturing in the U.S. at the end of 2016. It says the vast majority produced things other than the components protected by the tariff.

If solar panels cost more, SEIA predicts as many as 36,000 jobs manufacturing things like metal racking systems, high-tech inverters, and machines that improve solar panel output by tracking the sun and other electrical products could be vulnerable.

But Doran Hole, head of solar developer ReneSola Ltd., is less concerned.

"While higher prices for the modules we buy are never welcome, the new tariff rate was widely anticipated," Hole said. "We believe the U.S. project development industry has already adjusted to the tariffs, and the impact on growth should be benign."

Washing machines

The cost of imported large residential washing machines will also rise because of the tariff. The three-year tariff adds 20 percent to the first 1.2 million units, 50 percent to any in excess of that number, and 50 percent on covered parts.

The tariff declines slightly in the following two years.

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