It has recently become public that in December 2008 the U.S. started imposing a 2.5 percent tariff on Chinese solar panels imports, which could add up to around 70 million dollars in duties for the importing companies.
U.S. customs officials told a small company that wanted to import solar panels from China at the end of last year that the products had become too sophisticated to enter the country duty-free and would be classified as electric generators, subject to a 2.5 percent duty.
Despite the tariff being relatively low, it nevertheless affects an industry already severely damaged by the economic crisis and by growing competition. It also affects U.S.- China relations, which have been clouded in recent months by a number of trade disputes on issues such as the recently-import duties on Chinese tyres.
The duty on imported solar panels applies to almost all those used to provide power to houses, commerce or industry. Up to now, however, very few importers knew of the measure and so have unwittingly accumulated a huge tax debt. They now face penalties that are likely to double the amount of the tax.
In the first seven months of 2009 U.S. solar panel imports were slightly higher than exports, amounting respectively to 605 million and 555 million dollars.
The duty is causing a certain degree of controversy inside the U.S., with the Solar Energy Industries Association arguing that it could lead to other countries imposing retaliatory duties on American products and others pointing out that to avoid the tariff, Chinese manufacturers could move the final assembly of the solar panels to the U.S. The Association plans to legally challenge the classification of solar panels as electric generators.