Muted reaction to USITC recommendations as groups scramble to divine details

Shakespeare’s Macbeth, striding the stage mired in an existential crisis of his own making, bemoans that life is merely a story “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Based on the somewhat muted reaction to the announcement of the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (USITC) recommendations in the Section 201 trade action brought by Suniva and SolarWorld yesterday, it’s fair to ponder whether the Scottish king was on to something.

Part of the reason for the measured reactions to the recommendations – though diffuse, they all contain import restrictions with either tariffs or an import licensing fee – from the solar industry is that, in the end, they may not mean all that much. After all, the final decision rests in the hands of President Donald J. Trump, who will receive a formal report from the USITC on November 13.

“Today’s decision will have little or no immediate effect on the industry,” said Tony Clifford, chief development officer of Maryland-based solar company Standard Solar. “These are only the ITC’s recommendations – and there are three of them. What does matter is if President Trump selects one recommendation, rejects all of  them—or if he comes up with something completely different, as he has the power to do.”

“The good news is that none of the three recommendations even get to 50% of what [Suniva and SolarWorld] were seeking,” Clifford added. “The bad news is that all of them would still severely damage the solar industry.”

(For details and expert analysis of yesterday’s recommendations, see pv magazine’s Christian Roselund’s work “USITC recommends quotas, tariffs on crystalline silicon solar imports” and “Relatively positive: Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Nathan Serota on the ITC’s trade proposals“).

Suniva, the bankrupt module manufacturer who originally brought the trade complaint, golf-clapped the commission’s recommendations in the abstract, its statement blasted the recommendations in the concrete.

“The remedy recommended by the ITC is disappointing because it will not heal the damage suffered by this American high-tech manufacturing sector from what has been a tidal wave of imports,” Suniva’s statement read. “We call on President Trump to implement the remedy recommendations as submitted by  Suniva and SolarWorld, reject the ITC’s weak remedy recommendation, and take the courageous steps necessary to save American manufacturing with a strong remedy that will reinvigorate this sector, and help protect U.S. energy security and economic prosperity.”

Its co-petitioner, SolarWorld, offered a more nuanced interpretation of the recommendations, thanking the USITC of its work and praising the bipartisan nature of the recommendations. And it ended on a hopeful note, saying it looked forward to President Trump’s final determination.

“The process will now move forward to the President, and we continue to believe that the remedies SolarWorld has recommended are the right ones for this industry at this time,” said Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas. “We must ensure countries cannot undermine the remedies by underpricing their products in the U.S. market. We look forward to President Trump establishing remedies that will place this industry back on a path of robust growth and put manufacturing workers back to work in an industry that will be a key to our nation’s future.”

Even the trade action’s fiercest critic, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), offered its thanks to the commission for taking what it called a “thoughtful approach” to its recommendations and, while saying it believed even the recommendations as written would harm the industry, it also said it would continue to seek an ultimate decision with which all sides could live.

“While we will have to spend more time evaluating the details of each recommendation, we are encouraged by three commissioners’ reference to alternative funding mechanisms, including our import license fee proposal,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA president and CEO. “We look forward to collaborating with the Trump administration to arrive at such a solution and we will continue to work with our broad coalition of supporters to impress upon the administration the need for an approach that will not inflate the cost of electricity for all Americans and harm workers, consumers and the U.S. economy.”

The next critical date in these proceedings is November 13, when the USITC will provide President Trump with its formal report, after which he will issue the final decision on how this trade action will be resolved.