(Reuters) - The United States hit Chinese solar companies with punitive import tariffs of 30 percent or more on Thursday, ruling they had dumped cut-price solar panels into the U.S. market.
In the latest salvo in a series of ongoing trade disputes between Beijing and Washington, the U.S. Commerce Department said it sided with U.S.-based solar companies that had complained a wave of Chinese imports had wrongly undercut their pricing and forced several renewable players out of business.
With Thursday's move, Washington set tariffs on shipments from most of the top Chinese exporters, including Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd and Trina Solar Ltd, at about 31 percent.
Several of the Chinese companies and a solar trade group opposed to the tariffs denounced the duties, and said they would drive up costs for the clean energy source, stunting its fast growth.
The new tariff was "a heavy blow to America's solar industry," Jigar Shah, head of the anti-tariff Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, said.
Shah said he hoped the tariffs would be reduced before they are finalized later this year, since they would likely cost thousands of jobs in the nascent industry.
The new U.S. ruling stems from a complaint filed last October by the U.S. subsidiary of Germany's SolarWorld AG, and six other U.S. companies that alleged unfair competition and had sought duties well above 100 percent.
China will criticize the move, according to White & Case trade attorney Scott Lincicome, "but it's unlikely to further enflame bilateral trade tensions because high anti-dumping duties were widely expected."
China's solar companies, which hold more than 60 percent of the global market, have largely relied on subsidized markets in Europe and the United States in recent years for purchases of their products, prompting criticism that huge loans from Chinese state-run banks and low-ball pricing gave the Chinese companies an unfair advantage.
Under the decision, 59 Chinese solar companies that petitioned the U.S. government in the case will also face an import duty of about 31 percent, including Yingli Green Energy, LDK Solar, Canadian Solar, Hanwha Solar One, JA Solar Holding and Jinko Solar.