Ohio’s Solar Manufacturers Deserve a Level Playing Field

China is flooding the global market with solar panels. It’s part of an aggressive strategy by Beijing to dominate the world’s solar industry.

China is flooding the global market with solar panels. It’s part of an aggressive strategy by Beijing to dominate the world’s solar industry. Thankfully, a bipartisan consensus is emerging in Washington that tariffs are needed to address China’s massive overproduction. But even if Democrats and Republicans now agree on the need to confront China, they must also pursue strong enforcement of U.S. trade laws.

In April, seven major U.S. solar manufacturers filed a trade case regarding China’s illegal trade practices. One of them, First Solar, operates three manufacturing facilities in Ohio. In 2023 alone, First Solar supported more than 16,000 jobs across the United States and added $2.8 billion to the U.S. economy.

On June 7, the Commerce Department made an initial determination that American manufacturers are indeed being harmed by dumped solar panels. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown strongly supports the solar trade case, saying that “China’s cheating is rampant in the solar industry.” But even as Brown and other lawmakers tackle China’s predatory trade, they face opposition from industry groups — including the Solar Energy Industries Association— funded by China’s solar manufacturers.

The solar case is a prime example of what U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sees as Chinese overproduction that “distorts global prices and production patterns and hurts American firms and workers.” Chinese-owned companies now control more than 80%of the global solar market, threatening America’s chances of building a viable domestic solar industry.

While China’s predatory trade activity has hurt America’s solar industry, bad trade policy by the White House has also emboldened Beijing. The Biden administration’s 2022 Solar Emergency Declaration gave China 24 months to evade U.S. tariffs — even though the Commerce Department found Chinese solar firms guilty of illegal trade activity. This tariff “moratorium” ended up harming manufacturers such as First Solar while propping up Chinese solar companies that survive on government subsidies and close ties to Beijing.

China’s dumping of solar products to avoid U.S. tariffs has produced a global glut of artificially underpriced solar panels. The International Energy Agency reports that there is already a year and a half worth of stockpiled panels in U.S. warehouses.

Thankfully, President Biden recently reversed course —acknowledging that the tariff moratorium was a mistake. The president has also announced that he’s continuing the Trump administration’s China tariffs — and increasing them on Chinese steel, semiconductors, solar panels, and electric vehicles.

President Biden erred with the solar tariff moratorium in 2022. But his new actions to strengthen America’s solar manufacturing industry are a welcome change. He’s canceling China’s tariff exclusion for two-sided solar panels and issuing new guidance for bonus tax credits on domestically sourced manufacturing goods.

Some academics will criticize the tariffs. But Secretary Yellen believes that tariffs on Chinese goods won’t raise consumer prices. And National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard favors tariffs to avoid a “China Shock 2.0.”
A recent economic analysis by the Coalition for a Prosperous America documents how tariffs have strengthened the U.S. economy and “led to significant reshoring in certain industries.” Similarly, a report by the U.S. International Trade Commission found that tariffs have reduced imports from China and effectively stimulated U.S. production without impacting consumer prices.
This is what Ohio’s solar industry needs. And Congress should pay close attention since the Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022 was specifically intended to boost domestic solar manufacturing.
Congress and the White House can help solar manufacturers in Ohio and throughout the nation play an important role in the 21st century economy. That should include strong support for the trade case filed by First Solar and others plus a smart, coherent trade and industrial strategy. Anything less could condemn America to a solar future made in China.


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