US commerce secretary vows urgency on trade probe on solar industry

Ms Raimondo's assurances come on the heels of a Commerce Department memo earlier this week. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - United States Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo pledged that the agency would move as quickly as possible to advance a trade investigation that is roiling the domestic solar industry.

"We are required by statute to follow a process and do a fulsome investigation as per the statute, so that's what we're going to do," Ms Raimondo told Bloomberg News on Thursday (May 5) on the sidelines of a unrelated news conference in Washington.

"However we're going to do it as quickly as we can because it's an issue of real urgency."

Ms Raimondo's assurances come on the heels of a Commerce Department memo earlier this week that outlined some guidelines for the investigation and potential retroactive duties that could be imposed on solar cells and modules imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The US agency is probing allegations that Chinese companies are circumventing decade-old tariffs designed to prevent subsidised solar gear from flooding the US market by assembling the products in the four South-east Asian nations.

The inquiry is governed by a 92-year-old US trade law, and Biden administration officials have stressed it is a "quasi-judicial" process, meant to be free from political interference.

"We can't cut corners," Ms Raimondo said. "But we are moving as quickly as possible because it's a really urgent matter."

The Commerce Department has until Aug 30 to issue preliminary findings in the case. But US solar power advocates have implored the agency to move faster, as the mere existence of the inquiry - and the threat of retroactive duties - has already delayed renewable projects and prompted an Indiana utility to plan to keep two coal plants running longer.

Auxin Solar, the San Jose, California-based firm that successfully petitioned for the investigation, argues that the US must enforce its trade laws to combat "pervasive backdoor dumping" and rebuild the American solar supply chain.

Separately, American Clean Power Association chief executive Heather Zichal said on Thursday that while the Commerce Department memo was an "unprecedented step" to provide clarity, it still "did not resolve the uncertainty that keeps projects from moving forward".

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