U.S. agency report highlights imports’ serious injury to domestic manufacturing industry
Despite growing domestic demand, nearly 30 U.S. factories shutter
Nearly 30 U.S. crystalline-silicon solar technology manufacturing sites have closed down since 2012, a period in which imports of such products surged by nearly five-fold, according to a staff report by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC).
The ITC issued the report ahead of its hearing on Aug. 15 that will examine whether solar imports have caused serious injury to the domestic manufacturing industry. SolarWorld Americas Inc., the largest U.S. producer, and Suniva Inc. are co-petitioners in a so-called “safeguards case,” which seeks relief from the import surge. The pre-hearing report was based on responses to ITC questionnaires from purchasers, importers and producers. According to SolarWorld, the report findings paint a picture of domestic producers suffering serious financial distress even as U.S. demand robustly grew, as a result of the massive influx in solar imports from various global producers.
Highlights from the report:
- U.S. module assemblers suffered net losses exceeding $1 billion over a five-year period. “The majority of U.S. module producers reported operating losses throughout all or most of the period,” the report says.
- “The level of R&D expenses assigned to cell operations declined through the period.” Ten of 13 U.S. producers surveyed reported imports had undermined investment; nine said the same about growth and development.
- “Even as U.S. demand for [solar] products increased from 2012 to 2016, foreign suppliers, primarily Malaysia, China and Korea, began capturing a larger share of the U.S. market.”
- Module prices dropped by about a third in the second half of 2016, during a year when all imports increased by 50 percent from the previous year.
- U.S. solar manufacturers rated imports as “an extremely important cause of injury to U.S. producers,” making it the clear leading factor among a roster of potential causes of harm to the U.S. producers.
- According to the report, 28 of 34 Chinese producers said they do not compete with imports in their home market. The Chinese market, according to SolarWorld, is closed to imports.
“We appreciate the hard work that the ITC staff has invested in this comprehensive report,” said Juergen Stein, president of SolarWorld Americas. “We are confident that the facts support an affirmative finding by the ITC and that this finding will finally lead to a restoration of fair competition in the U.S. solar marketplace.”
The ITC is scheduled to vote Sept. 22 on whether imports have caused serious injury, or threat of serious injury, to the domestic industry. If at least two of the current four Commissioners vote in the affirmative, the case moves on to a remedy phase, in which the ITC has until Nov. 13 to make a recommendation to the President.