Solar firms in China and Taiwan hit by US anti-dumping duties of up to 165pc
Anti-dumping measures targeting mainland and Taiwanese firms likely to inflame Sino-US tensions and make life harder for installers
The United States set new import duties on solar products from China after its Commerce Department found that solar panels and cells were being sold too cheaply on the US market.
The preliminary anti-dumping duties - as high as 165.04 per cent - for Chinese goods would come on top of anti-subsidy levies imposed last month, as the US arm of German manufacturer SolarWorld seeks to close a loophole allowing Chinese producers to sidestep duties imposed in 2012.
Mainland Chinese producer Trina Solar faces total import duties of nearly 30 per cent and Suntech Power nearly 50 per cent as a result of Friday's decision.
Taiwanese producers face anti-dumping duties of up to 44.18 per cent, with the highest rate applying to Motech Industries, the US said. There will be no doubling-up of duties with those from the 2012 case.
The new duties, which must still be confirmed, are likely to inflame Sino-US tensions already exacerbated by recent accusations that Chinese military officers were cyberspying on US companies involved in trade disputes, including SolarWorld.
SolarWorld said the new duties would average 47 per cent for most companies, compared with 31 per cent in the 2012 case.
The company, which makes crystalline silicon solar panels in the state of Oregon, complained mainland Chinese manufacturers dodged those duties by shifting production of the cells used to make their panels to Taiwan.
"Today's actions should help the US solar manufacturing industry to expand and innovate," said SolarWorld Industries America president Mukesh Dulani. "We should not have to compete with dumped imports or the Chinese government."
The US solar industry has been battered over the past four years by a glut of products from China, falling prices and a withdrawal of consumer subsidies in Europe, which has pressured solar companies' margins and sparked a rash of trade cases.
"We strongly urge the US and Chinese governments to 'freeze the playing field' and focus all efforts on finding a negotiated solution," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. "This continued, unnecessary litigation has already done serious damage, with even more likely to result as the investigations proceed."
India has slapped levies on panels from the United States and China. The European Union has also targeted Chinese panels and China has moved against imports of US polysilicon, solar's key raw material.
Meanwhile, the United States is challenging India's solar programme at the World Trade Organisation. The WTO found irregularities in the previous US-China anti-subsidy case.
SolarWorld has said it has the support of other US solar manufacturers in pushing for a broadening of the duties.
But the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, which represents installers, said they would suffer if there were another jump in the cost of modules. US imports of solar products from mainland China were worth US$1.5 billion last year, half the level of 2011, while imports from Taiwan more than doubled to US$657 million over the period, according to US data.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg