SolarWorld confident as U.S. nears decision on Chinese solar panels

Wed Oct 3, 2012 12:11am EDT
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By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. solar panel producers, who have already won preliminary duties on billions of dollars of solar panel imports from China, appear well positioned to win longer-term relief in coming weeks as the U.S. government makes its final decisions.

The high-profile case, which has been copied by producers in Europe and spawned threats of retaliation from Beijing, now largely turns on whether the U.S. International Trade Commission finds U.S. manufacturers have been "materially injured," or are threatened with material injury, by the imports.

"We feel we have a very strong injury case," Tim Brightbill, lead attorney for SolarWorld Americas SWVG.DE and other U.S. producers, told Reuters ahead of an ITC hearing on Wednesday to examine the case before the panel votes in early November.

"The impact on the domestic industry has just been devastating. I think we're unfortunately up to 13 companies where there has been either a shutdown or a bankruptcy or significant work layoffs due to the Chinese imports," he said.

Even some critics of the duties, like GT Advanced Technologies GTAT.O President Tom Gutierrez, see little chance they won't be imposed because U.S. decision makers only consider whether U.S. producers have been harmed or threatened by the imports and not the larger impact any duties might have.

"That's the fundamental flaw in the process. ... Nothing is going to change," said Gutierrez, whose company exports high-technology equipment used in the solar manufacturing process and could be hit if China does decide to retaliate.

Gutierrez predicted that "not a single U.S. job will be created" if U.S. duties are imposed, but thousands could be lost in the installation and export sector.

The U.S. Commerce Department, which has set combined preliminary duties of roughly 35 percent on most Chinese solar panels, will make a final decision on duties on October 10.   Continued...