Has the trade war between the U.S. and China helped or hurt the U.S. solar industry?


The dispute over solar panel imports from China began in 2012 when the U.S. accused China of dumping solar panels below the cost into the U.S market. After a lengthy World Trade Organization (WTO) review process which concluded that dumping had occurred, the U.S. imposed tariffs on Chinese panels. China responded by imposing countervailing tariffs on polysilicon, a key ingredient in photovoltaic cell production, made in the United States and exported to China. The tariffs are generally company specific and have been reviewed and adjusted periodically since 2012.

U.S. solar installers, by far the largest market segment and domestic job creator in recent years, argue that the tariffs on Chinese imports are effectively a tax on their business which raises the costs of solar installations and makes them less competitive relative to traditional energy sources.

U.S. solar cell and module manufacturers are generally supportive of the tariff regime claiming it helps level the playing field for their products and protects U.S. jobs at their domestic production facilities.

However, U.S. polysilicon manufactures, which face a 57 percent duty on imports of their product to China, have been particularly hard hit. China’s countervailing tariff has made it difficult for U.S. based polysilicon companies to produce and sell polysilicon at a low enough price to be competitive in the Chinese market leading to an oversupply of materials and production slowdowns and job losses at large polysilicon manufacturing facilities in places like Washington State.