A Monday announcement that the Trump administration would consider adding a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods has journalists, industry and political commentators crying “trade war.”

Over the past week, the Trump administration and the Chinese government have traded promises of new and greater tariffs on an array of goods. Some solar and battery products were included in an announcement last week of a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion in Chinese products, but thus far any impact on the clean technology industry looks to be a soft blow.

Ironically, the trauma from Section 201 solar tariffs stacked on top of existing anti-dumping and countervailing duties has blunted any further impact of tariffs on Chinese imports.

“A lot of manufacturers built up capacity in other regions, primarily in Southeast Asia, basically so they could avoid importing cells and modules from China specifically,” said MJ Shiao, head of Americas at GTM Research. “China is an increasingly small portion of imports and, with Section 201 in place, it pretty much killed prospects for anyone competitively importing from China to the U.S.”

According to data from the U.S. International Trade Commission, the dollar value of imports of Chinese solar cells assembled into modules or panels has decreased 66.8 percent between 2017 and 2018 to date. While the dollar value of Chinese cells not assembled into modules or panels has increased this year, Chinese imports are still only valued at $280,000 — a total of 1 to 2 megawatts — so far in 2018.

In January, the administration announced a 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells and modules that steps down over time.

For battery storage, the products included on the latest tariff lists account for a small portion of U.S. imports according to Ravi Manghani, director of energy storage at GTM Research. But the new tariffs do have the potential to squeeze production in Southeast Asia, an increasingly essential region in the global solar market.


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