Trump: ‘We can no longer tolerate’ trade abuses

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Comments from President Trump and one of his top energy advisers are giving new hope to solar manufacturers that the administration may slap steep tariffs on solar components.

Last week, Trump gave a speech at the White House about his 12-day trip to Asia where he said the U.S. would take “every trade action necessary” to achieve the same “fair and reciprocal treatment” the U.S. has offered the rest of the world for decades.

On China, Trump said that “we can no longer tolerate unfair trading practices that steal American jobs, wealth and intellectual property. The days of the United States being taken advantage of are over.”

While the president did not mention solar specifically, his comments echo earlier remarks of “bring me some tariffs” in regard to a separate trade case from China (Greenwire, Aug. 28).

The comments from Trump prompted Suniva — a solar manufacturing company pushing for tariffs — to release a statement that it was “optimistic that the president will implement the remedies we’ve put forward, including global tariffs on solar imports, to prevent the extinction of American solar manufacturing due to China’s repeated and blatant cheating.”

Analysts have said for months that Trump is likely to put trade restrictions in place in response to a case filed by Suniva and SolarWorld Americas Inc. with the U.S. International Trade Commission. However, it remains unclear exactly what level and type of restrictions Trump might support.

There’s speculation that a protectionist wing of the administration led by senior trade adviser Peter Navarro and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are at odds with free-trade officials (E&E News PM, Oct. 31).

Trump energy adviser David Banks reportedly told reporters in Bonn, Germany, at climate talks last week that a vibrant solar manufacturing industry in the U.S. is in the “national interest” when asked about solar tariffs, according to Axios.

Last month, the ITC backed tariffs as high as 35 percent in response to Suniva and SolarWorld’s claims they are experiencing “serious injury” because of a flood of cheap solar imports, primarily from Asia. The recommended tariff level on crystalline silicon photovoltaic solar cells and modules was lower than requested by the two companies. Trump can either accept their recommendation or design a different response entirely.

On Friday, the ITC released a full report on its reasoning behind the decision to recommend solar tariffs to Trump. While the general thoughts of the ITC’s commissioners were known, the document provides detailed analysis of their thinking and contains details that likely will be considered by administration officials.

“Imports from China overtook the domestic industry’s U.S. shipments by 2010, and by the end of 2011, imports from China had nearly doubled from their 2009 level,” commissioners wrote in making an argument for tariffs.

The case now heads to an arm of the White House, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which is under a deadline today to receive comments before a Dec. 6 hearing. Under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, Trump has until Jan. 12 to decide whether to impose trade protections.

Suniva, SolarWorld and its supporters say cheap imports already are causing job losses in their industry. Tariffs are opposed by a broad coalition of much of the solar industry, utilities, conservative think tanks and environmentalists who say resulting prices spikes would slow growth, kill thousands of jobs and favor two companies that made poor business decisions.

On Wednesday, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) approved a resolution warning solar tariffs or other barriers would harm U.S. consumers.

“As NARUC’s resolution points out, increased costs would also pose a challenge to state renewable energy and emissions goals,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Some solar companies opposed to tariffs also have boosted their lobbying presence recently.

Earlier this month, both Sunrun Inc. and Vivint Solar Inc. hired Ballard Partners, a lobby firm considered well-connected to Trump, according to lobbying disclosure records released by the Senate last week.

The registrations show that since Wednesday, Brian Ballard and Sylvester Lukis have been lobbying for both companies on “general government policies and regulations.”

Ballard played a key role in the president’s 2016 campaign, serving as Trump’s top fundraiser in Florida. He also was vice chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee and served on the finance committee for the Trump administration’s transition team.

Ballard Partners appears to be Vivint Solar’s first lobbying hire, according to records. Meanwhile, Sunrun had already spent $62,000 on lobbying so far this year.

Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.