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Solar May Not Get Relief From Trump’s Tariffs Soon After All

Brian Eckhouse

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The solar industry may not catch the break from U.S. import tariffs that it was counting on next year.

The duties imposed by the Trump administration last year currently stand at 25% and were scheduled to fall to 20% in 2020. But the Washington-based trade group Solar Energy Industries Association warned on Tuesday that the White House may decide to ease up on that cut as part of a review of the tariffs.

“Our fear is that the administration will make them tougher,” the group’s chief executive officer, Abigail Ross Hopper, said on a call with reporters.

The tariffs, first imposed in 2018, have been punishing for much of the U.S. solar industry. While they’ve prompted a handful of manufacturers to open U.S. panel factories, the duties have driven up costs for developers and rooftop installers who employ most of the industry’s workers. If left in place, the duties will cost the industry $19 billion in investment and will lead to 62,000 fewer jobs by 2021, the solar association said in a report Tuesday.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro called the group’s report “fake news dressed up in academic mumbo jumbo.” It warns of “gloom and doom,” he said, when in fact unemployment rates remain low.

Navarro meanwhile described the solar association as a “loose confederation of Chinese solar companies seeking to destroy American solar manufacturing jobs and U.S. solar installers that want cheap Chinese panels and don’t care how many American jobs are destroyed.”

The U.S. International Trade Commission is conducting a midterm review of the solar tariffs, set to expire in 2022. It’s expected to send a report to the president next year. Suniva Inc., a Georgia-based panel maker that first asked Trump to impose tariffs, has already requested that the 5% reductions set for 2020 and 2021 be scaled back.

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In response to Navarro’s comment, Solar Energy Industries Association invited him to attend one of its conferences and “meet some of the 240,000 Americans who work in this great industry.” The group said it looks forward to working with the Trump administration on ways to advance “real manufacturing growth without these particularly counterproductive tariffs.”

(Updates with White House comment in fifth paragraph)

--With assistance from Josh Wingrove and Ari Natter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Eckhouse in New York at beckhouse@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lynn Doan at ldoan6@bloomberg.net, Millie Munshi

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