SolarWorld Seeks Retroactive Duties After China Import Surge

SolarWorld AG is seeking retroactive duties on Chinese solar panels after imports surged at the end of last year, said an attorney for the company’s U.S. unit.

SolarWorld has asked the Commerce Department to apply duties on imports that have arrived since Nov. 15, 90 days before the agency is scheduled to rule on Feb. 13, said Timothy Brightbill, an attorney with Wiley Rein LLP, a law firm that filed the petition on behalf of the U.S. manufacturers including the American unit of Bonn-based SolarWorld. The company presented evidence to support its allegation on Dec. 23, he said.

Imports from Suntech Power Holdings Co. and Trina Solar Ltd., two of the biggest China-based makers of crystalline silicon panels, surged as the companies tried to evade tariffs that may be imposed next month, Brightbill said. Suntech imports increased 76 percent in November from October, while Trina’s tripled in the first half of December, compared with the first half of November, according to data compiled by the U.S. manufacturers.

“The bottom line is there has been a huge surge at the end of the year, way out of proportion to demand, in an effort to beat the imposition of duties,” Brightbill said today in an interview. “That’s why we’re urging Commerce to make what’s called a critical-circumstances finding and to impose the duties 90 days retroactively.”

Grant Program Expired

The increase in imports may have been driven by developers racing to qualify for a federal grant program that ended Dec. 31, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The U.S. Treasury Department’s 1603 program offered cash grants of as much as 30 percent of development costs for renewable-energy projects.

The program’s expiration spurred “strong U.S. market demand in the fourth quarter,” Walker Frost, a San Francisco-based spokesman for Suntech, said in an e-mail. “Suntech continues to grow steadily with the U.S. solar industry, and in 2011 we maintained our leading market share.”

E-mails to the press offices of Trina and LDK Solar Co., another China-based producer, weren’t immediately returned.

U.S. solar-equipment manufacturers say they are being harmed because China’s government uses cash grants, discounts on raw materials, preferential loans and tax incentives, and manipulates its currency to boost exports of solar cells. SolarWorld, a maker of solar modules, filed a complaint Oct. 19 with the U.S. International Trade Commission and the Commerce Department, seeking duties to offset the practices.

The trade commission on Dec. 2 said the Chinese subsidies have harmed equipment makers, ruling on the petition seeking antidumping and countervailing duties.

The commission is investigating possible economic harm to SolarWorld from Chinese imports, while the department determines the penalty for Chinese companies that illegally dump products.

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