Energy interests wary as Trump orders China tariffs

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 23, 2018

President Trump vowed yesterday to impose annual tariffs of about $60 billion on Chinese imports as part of a broad trade plan that could hit renewable and energy technologies.

In a signed memorandum, Trump directed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to propose a list of products for 25 percent tariffs that includes “aerospace, information and communication technology and machinery.”

USTR was also directed to confront China’s licensing practices through a World Trade Organization dispute. The Treasury Department, meanwhile, was ordered to propose restrictions on Chinese investments in “sensitive U.S. technology.”

While the tariff list is not yet known, experts said some energy products could be covered, including solar modules already hit with new trade barriers.

An investigative report released  by the White House on China’s trade policies repeatedly mentions solar and vehicle technology. USTR conducted the review at Trump’s direction under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.

“The Chinese government has issued several policies to support the development of renewable energy technologies. Both the 12th Five-year Renewable Energy Development Plan 832 and 13th Five-year Renewable Energy Development Plan 833 touch on the need to develop renewable energy for the sake of “ensuring energy security, protecting the ecological environment, and responding to climate change,” the report states.

An energy lobbyist said if solar were included in additional tariffs, it would effectively prohibit imports of cells and modules from China, considering existing rules. Other renewable advocates said it was too early to speculate on which products might face new fees, especially since there will be opportunities for industry feedback.

Trump slapped a 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells and modules in January (E&E News PM, Jan. 23). That comes on top of existing duties on China’s solar imports specifically. Earlier this month, the president also imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel (E&E News PM, March 8).

Daniel Becker, executive director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said he suspected some of the tariffs would hit vehicles, “since Trump has mentioned the impositions that China makes on U.S. automakers wanting to build plants in China.”

The White House said it would publish the tariff list within 15 days in the Federal Register, followed by a 30-day comment period. The USTR would later make a final determination on tariff action. It is expected that some 1,300 products could face tariffs, according to the administration.

At the White House, Trump said he viewed China “as a friend,” but accused the country of engaging in “tremendous intellectual property theft,” according to a pool report.

China’s commerce ministry said the country would “not sit idly by and let its legitimate rights and interests be harmed, and will certainly take all necessary measures to resolutely defend its legitimate rights and interests,” the BBC reported.

The action follows ongoing challenges at the World Trade Organization over solar tariffs. Yesterday, the WTO ruled the U.S. failed to calculate prices accurately in an earlier 2014 trade case that slapped duties on Chinese solar imports.

Reporter Maxine Joselow contributed.