While President Donald Trump prepares to announce his decision on new solar panel import tariffs, the U.S. industry is quietly trying to broker a sweeping deal to settle a different trade dispute with China involving an estimated $1.5 billion held by Washington.
Since 2012, the U.S. has been collecting duties on panels imported from China. American solar companies are pushing to divvy up that money between manufacturers and suppliers in both the U.S. and China as part of a deal that, they say, could effectively reset solar-trade relations between the two nations.
The proposal, which trade experts describe as a long shot at best, would call for Trump to drop existing duties on solar panels — and for the president to not levy new ones. China, in turn, would abandon its own tariffs on U.S. polysilicon, a key solar-panel ingredient. There would be many hurdles to making it all happen. Chief among them, of course, is convincing Trump to take a conciliatory stance with China. Yet solar companies say the deal would fit squarely into the president’s agenda.
“This administration has a real opportunity to succeed where others failed as a result of your commitment to a re-balancing of trade relations,” Craig Cornelius, senior vice president of renewables at power generator NRG Energy Inc., said at a hearing before Trump’s trade representative in December.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Emily Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative, declined to comment.
Trump has until Jan. 26 to decide whether to impose tariffs, making it unlikely that any deal will be brokered in time to prevent new duties. Most U.S. solar companies oppose tariffs, saying they will cripple the industry and kill tens of thousands of jobs. In the short-term, many are lobbying to keep any duties as low as possible. Ultimately, they are pushing for a broad deal to end all solar trade barriers between the U.S., China and other nations.
“We maintain our position that a global settlement, following the general construct proposed last month by NRG’s Craig Cornelius, would be a welcome outcome to these cases,” Solar Energy Industries Association President Abigail Ross Hopper said in an emailed statement.
The push for the tariffs Trump is considering began in April, when Suniva Inc., a bankrupt, Georgia-based panel maker filed a trade complaint arguing it had been crippled by a flood of imports. SolarWorld Americas, the U.S. unit of a bankrupt German manufacturer, joined the case the following month.