US Senate Votes to Restore Solar Tariffs Up to 254% in Biden Rebuke

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(Bloomberg) -- The US Senate voted Wednesday to reinstate tariffs as high as 254% on solar panels from Southeast Asia, underscoring a deep clash over continued US reliance on foreign imports to drive the nation’s renewable-energy development.

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With the Senate’s 56-41 vote, the measure now heads to President Joe Biden, who has vowed to veto it and preserve the tariff moratorium he established that runs through early June 2024. Still, nine Democrats joined Republicans in voting to end that reprieve, highlighting continued bipartisan wariness of the administration’s plan to insulate US renewable development from trade risks.

The legislation creates political risk for the president, because it’s bound up with concerns about US dependence on China for the critical minerals used in electric vehicles, solar panels and other equipment vital to the clean-energy transition. House Republicans are expected to hold a vote to override Biden’s planned veto, even though the chamber didn’t muster the two-thirds majority necessary to overcome his rejection when it passed the measure last week.

At issue is a Commerce Department investigation that found Chinese solar manufacturers are circumventing decade-old anti-dumping and countervailing duties by assembling equipment in Southeast Asia before shipping it to the US. That initial finding would subject panels from Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam to anti-circumvention duties retroactive to the start of the probe, were it not for the Biden administration’s two-year reprieve. Tariffs could reach as high as 254%, though most affected imports are subject to duties in the low double digits.

Read more from BNEF: Solar Manufacturers Bet on Southeast Asia to Supply the US

While the vote was a surprise and “appears to be a negative for Chinese module makers with capacity in Southeast Asia,” it’s highly likely to be vetoed by Biden, meaning it shouldn’t be a huge issue for the manufacturers, Daiwa Capital Markets analysts including Dennis Ip said in a note.

Trina Solar Co. shares fell as much as 2.7% in early trading in China on Thursday. Longi Green Energy Technology Co. dropped 2.2% and Jinko Solar Co. lost as much as 3.4% before paring declines.

The measure to undo Biden’s moratorium has been the subject of fierce lobbying by China hawks as well as renewable developers, who argue that retroactive tariffs — estimated to be more than $1 billion — would threaten domestic solar installations. While tax incentives in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act spurred investments in US solar manufacturing, new domestic production will take months and years to come online. In the meantime, the US still buys most of its solar gear from foreign suppliers, with the four nations targeted in the trade probe providing the vast majority.

--With assistance from Luz Ding and Jeff Sutherland.

(Updates to add analyst comment and shares from fifth paragraph)

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