Bloomberg -- President Donald Trump’s trade representative requested more details about how low-cost imported solar panels have harmed U.S. manufacturers as the White House considers imposing tariffs.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer asked the U.S. International Trade Commission in a letter Monday for a report to help the president take “appropriate and feasible action” to support domestic solar panel manufactures.
The trade commission recommended this month tariffs of as much as 35 percent on imported solar panels to help U.S. manufacturers compete. It came after Suniva Inc., a bankrupt Georgia panel maker, filed a trade complaint saying it was crippled by foreign competitors. Trump has the final say on setting any tariffs.
Lighthizer specifically asked the trade commission to identify any “unforeseen developments” that led to U.S. companies being harmed. The move may be an effort to head off any challenges at the World Trade Organization should Trump impose tariffs, said Clark Packard, a trade policy analyst for the Washington-based free-market think tank R Street Institute.
The Suniva trade complaint is based on a law that gives the president broad authority to levy tariffs. But the U.S. has lost every time the statute has been challenged at the WTO. A key issue is that the law is inconsistent with America’s obligations to the WTO, trade analysts have said. For instance, to win at the WTO, a company must show it was blindsided by foreign competition that could not have been reasonably foreseen, while the U.S. law only requires companies to show they were harmed.
The White House’s request for more information may also be a sign it’s seeking a reason not to levy duties, said Packard.
Most of the solar industry is opposed to tariffs, saying they would slow installations and lead to thousands of job losses. Influential conservatives and free-trade groups have objected to duties, too, including the Heritage Foundation and Fox News host Sean Hannity. If the trade commission can’t point to any unforeseen circumstances, Trump may have a easy reason to say no to Suniva.
“If they are looking for some angle to get out of this -- I think this may be their best option,” Packard said.
Updates with comment from analyst in fourth paragraph.