Presidential Action Triggered by Crisis in the U.S. Solar Industry
In recent months, the U.S. solar industry has been in the midst of an existential crisis, triggered by the threatened imposition of retroactive and future tariffs on a significant portion of U.S. imports. That crisis began on April 1, 2022, when the Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) initiated an inquiry to determine whether solar cells and modules from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam are circumventing antidumping (“AD”) and countervailing duty (“CVD”) orders on solar cells from China. Solar cells from these countries generally accounted for approximately 80% of U.S. solar module imports in 2020. If Commerce finds circumvention, solar cells and modules from the four target countries could not only be subject to combined AD/CVD tariffs approaching 250%, but Commerce’s regulations also allow for the agency to apply these tariffs retroactively to merchandise entering on or after April 1, 2022 (and potentially as far back as November 4, 2021). This threat of AD/CVD tariffs triggered a steep decrease in imports of solar cells and modules from Southeast Asia, and caused parts of the U.S. solar industry to come to a stand-still, furthering domestic reliance on coal. Given this paralysis in the solar industry, lawmakers and others urged the President to provide relief from potential AD/CVD tariffs.
The President’s Response
On June 6, 2022, President Biden issued a declaration of emergency (the “Declaration”) pursuant to section 318(a) of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. § 1318), and issued a determination pursuant to section 303 of the Defense Production Act of 1950, as amended (50 U.S.C. § 4533) (“the DPA Determination”). The Declaration finds that an emergency exists “with respect to the threats to the availability of sufficient electricity generation capacity” and authorizes Commerce to issue a moratorium on tariffs on solar cells and modules from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam for up to a 24-month period, while the DPA Determination aims to “expand the domestic production capability” for solar cells during this 24-month period. The Declaration itself does not prevent the imposition of tariffs on imported solar cells and modules from the Southeast Asian countries, rather it authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to “take appropriate action” to permit the duty-free importation of solar cells and modules for 24 months after the Declaration’s issue date.