One of the most interesting wrinkles in the Section 201 trade case is the shift in import patterns that has happened in recent years. While much of the rhetoric of petitioners has focused on Chinese companies evading tariffs and seeking to dominate the global market, much of the imports that are coming to the United States market are not from China. Instead, they are from other Asian nations – and some of these imports are from companies founded and headquartered in the United States.
Recent trade data compiled by the Energy Trade Action Coalition shows that by far the largest single source of U.S. solar cell and module imports is Malaysia, with a total of $1.4 billion in product shipped to the United States during the first 11 months of 2017. Korea came in second with $951 million in imports, and Vietnam third with $643 million. China was the fourth-largest source of imports at $487 million.
Some of these imports from Southeast Asian nations are from Chinese companies that set up manufacturing in the region to avoid anti-dumping and countervailing duties (CVD) imposed by the Department of Commerce in 2014. However, U.S. companies First Solar and Sunpower both have substantial manufacturing in Malaysia, as does Japan’s Panasonic and Hanwha Q-Cells.
Korea, as the second largest-source of U.S. imports, has less of a presence by Chinese manufacturers, and instead hosts PV makers such as LG, Hanwha, Nexolon and others. LG in particular has had an enviable market share in the United States.
The position of these nations is a big change from five years ago, when China was by far the largest source of PV cells and modules imported into the United States. As such, it is many non-Chinese companies, including LG and SunPower, that will have to pay any global safeguard tariffs imposed under Section 201.