Trump's Solar Tariffs Could Cause Global Backlash, Congressional Research Service Warns

The Congressional Research Service warned members of Congress last month that President Trump's import tariffs on solar panels could lead to retaliatory actions against the United States.
The threat of such retaliation has led to the repeal of import tariffs in the past. The warning comes in the final paragraph of a two-part legal sidebar that CRS Legislative Attorney Caitlain Devereaux Lewis prepared to brief Congress on its options.
"What appears to be more certain is that the President’s actions could result in a dispute before the WTO to challenge the United States’ imposition of these safeguard measures," Lewis writes.
"An adverse ruling from the WTO could potentially lead to the imposition of retaliatory measures against U.S. exports by other member countries."
Lewis suggests a high likelihood the World Trade Organization will rule that Trump's solar tariffs violate U.S. trade agreements:
"The WTO’s ruling with regard to the 2002 safeguard measures on certain steel imports could be an indication of how the body might rule on the Trump Administration’s new measures."
In 2002 President George W. Bush imposed tariffs on steel imports, only to reverse them in 2003 after the WTO ruled they were illegal. The WTO ruling left the U.S. vulnerable to $2 billion in sanctions on U.S. exports.
Lewis cites an analysis in the Georgetown Journal of International Law which observes that the WTO “has ruled that every single safeguard measure implemented by the United States since 1994 has violated, at least partially, WTO law.”
Trump's tariffs start at 30 percent next year and decline annually to 15 percent by the fourth year. The first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells are exempted. Trade protections were requested by two foreign-owned solar manufacturers based in the U.S., Suniva and Solarworld, but were opposed by the Solar Energy Industries Association, which warned they could imperil 260,000 jobs by choking off supply to the growing solar industry.
Most of those jobs are in design, sales and installation, CRS notes in a separate report, not in manufacturing.
Imported cells and modules supported 88 percent of U.S. solar installations in 2017. Because China and Taiwan already faced trade penalties imposed in 2012 and 2015, the panels most likely to be affected by Trump's action come from South Korea and Mexico, CRS says.

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