Tensions flare in trade war, Trump threatens WTO exit


The U.S.-China trade war, a product of the fallout following the Section 301 tariffs, grows in disdain with each passing day. This week, tensions rose further, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreeing yesterday to China’s request to create a dispute panel, and President Donald Trump again threatening to leave the WTO entirely.

The busy week began with the confirmation that lithium-ion batteries would be included under the umbrella of Section 301. The code for lithium-ion batteries, HTSUS 8507.60, is included on a list published Tuesday by the U.S. Trade Representative of products from China that will be subject to 10% duties under the latest of several rounds of Section 301.

The dispute panel established by the WTO will have the responsibility of judging whether U.S. tariffs—on solar panels, inverters, solar cells and countless other products critical to the life of the solar industry—violate international trade rules. The agreement came as a part of final findings against the tariffs made by the WTO. From here, it’s not unreasonable to believe that China could bring forth compensatory sanctions against the United States.

The tariffs have been mixed in their impact on the U.S. solar industry, which is reliant on many different products made by Chinese companies.

Before the imposition of tariffs, the majority of residential and commercial inverters in the United States came from China, but system prices for residential, commercial, and industrial projects are expected to rise only by a cent or two per watt, with even less of an impact on utility-scale projects, which will see an increase of less than a cent per watt.

The major effects in the inverter industry have been seen on a company-by-company basis. For example, Enphase will likely be damaged more by the tariffs than SolarEdge, because before shifting to a Mexican factory Enphase build its products through an OEM in China, while SolarEdge has manufacturing facilities in North America and Europe.

The internet’s favorite company, Tesla, could ultimately feel blowback from the tariffs, even though the company has its Gigafactory making batteries in Nevada. This is because while the battery is manufactured in the United States, the company still depends on lithium, cobalt and graphite inputs to make these batteries, and China holds the majority of the world’s chemical lithium and chemical cobalt and all of its spherical graphite production.

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