President Joe Biden on Monday announced a 24-month exemption of tariffs on solar panels from four southeast Asian nations that the Commerce Department suspects are actually made in China.
Solar panel imports from Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia were frozen after the Commerce Department opened an investigation in March on whether Chinese solar producers were illegally circumventing tariffs by routing their operations through those countries.
Reuters first reported that Biden has decided to exempt those solar panel imports from tariffs in order to get stalled solar-power projects back on track. The move will benefit U.S. solar developers and utilities that rely on imported solar panels, but hurt American solar panel manufacturers.
Auxin, a California-based solar panel manufacturer that prompted the Commerce Department’s probe through a complaint, slammed Biden’s decision.
“President Biden is significantly interfering in Commerce’s quasi-judicial process,” Auxin Chief Executive Officer Mamun Rashid said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “By taking this unprecedented — and potentially illegal — action, he has opened the door wide for Chinese-funded special interests to defeat the fair application of US trade law.”
The White House “opened the door wide for Chinese-funded special interests to defeat the fair application of U.S. trade law,” Rashid said, according to Reuters.
Biden also on Monday invoked the Defense Production Act to expand U.S. manufacturing of solar panels and other clean energy technologies, with a goal of tripling domestic solar manufacturing capacity to 22.5 gigawatts by 2024.
The tariffs on imported solar cells and modules made in China were first imposed by the Obama administration in 2012, according to Reuters.
Last year, Republicans pushed to ban all Chinese imports suspected of being made with Uyghur slave labor, to include solar panels.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) tweeted Monday, “@JoeBiden bows to Communist China & ignores human rights AGAIN.”
He added, “This will likely increase U.S. imports of solar panels made through Uyghur forced labor in Xinjiang. The Biden admin must stand against forced labor & prevent tax dollars from funding this horrific abuse.”
.@JoeBiden bows to Communist China & ignores human rights AGAIN.
This will likely increase U.S. imports of solar panels made through Uyghur forced labor in Xinjiang. The Biden admin must stand against forced labor & prevent tax dollars from funding this horrific abuse. https://t.co/eZfmYalZdF
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) June 6, 2022
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks (R-IN) tweeted, “By lifting tariffs on solar energy imports from China, Biden is endorsing the industry’s heavy reliance on Uyghur slave labor.”
“This is a win for the [Chinese Communist Party] and a major loss for human rights and American producers,” he added.
By lifting tariffs on solar energy imports from China, Biden is endorsing the industry’s heavy reliance on Uyghur slave labor.
— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) June 6, 2022
The investigation will continue, and depending on the outcome of the probe tariffs could be levied, but not for at least 24 months, according to the report.
The freeze on imports had prompted concern by both Democrats and Republicans, who urged Biden to act.
Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) said the investigation was “causing massive disruption in the solar industry,” and would “severely harm American solar businesses and workers and increase costs for American families as long as it continues.”
The solar industry cheered Biden’s tariff exemption.
President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement to Reuters, “The president’s action is a much-needed reprieve from this industry-crushing probe.”
The U.S. International Trade Commission in December recommended a four-year extension of the solar tariff. The recommendation followed a determination that solar imports remain a threat to U.S. manufacturers.