Thursday, May 19, 2022

Commerce Secretary Tells Senators Her Agency is “Obligated” to Conduct Investigation into Solar Imports

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Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo testifies before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies on Wednesday. Via Senate Appropriations Committee

Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Secretary Gina Raimondo also emphasized the urgency for Congress to pass competitiveness legislation.

The Commerce Department is “obligated” to investigate whether China is circumventing U.S. tariffs by shipping solar products through four Southeast Asian countries, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Senators on Wednesday, stressing that “there’s a process, there’s a law, I have to implement the law.”

California solar panel maker Auxin Solar filed a petition in February with Commerce asking for the investigation, arguing that China is shipping products through Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand in order to avoid tariffs placed on solar products. Commerce announced in March that it would launch an investigation into the claims, one that could take up to 365 days. If Commerce determines circumvention is taking place, the agency could issue tariffs on these imports.

These sorts of trade cases are fairly common, and its worth pointing out that no determination has been made yet — which means the solar products in question can still be imported into the United States without any new tariffs placed on them.

But solar importers have still responded by launching a massive PR campaign against the investigation, and they’ve managed to gain the support of some Senators, who asked Raimondo about it when she appeared before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday.

PR blitz or not, the Commerce Department is obligated to do its job, and as Raimondo told lawmakers, her staff needs to be given the leeway to conduct their work.

“I know that this is an urgent matter, I also know how to respect regulators and make sure they have the freedom to do their job,” Raimondo said. “This is complex.”

Raimondo is right. At the very least, the team at Commerce needs to be given the room to do their jobs properly. Instead of dedicating so much energy to try and quash a trade investigation, solar installers and their allies on Capitol Hill would be wise to find new ways to strengthen domestic production of solar products.

Members of Congress also need to finally get competitiveness legislation across the finish line, Raimondo told Senators.

The Bipartisan Innovation Act — which was known as the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) in the Senate — would invest $52 billion to encourage U.S. domestic semiconductor production and provide funding for research and development and other efforts to strengthen American manufacturing.

Raimondo said she “cannot emphasize enough the urgency” of getting the legislation complete.

“I’ve heard from semiconductor companies who tell me they are going to expand their facilities, and they have to make the decisions this year in order to meet the demand,” Raimondo said. ““If we don’t pass this USICA bill this year, they’ll have no choice but to build overseas, which does us no good.”

The secretary also noted that she has seen multiple reports that China’s government is lobbying against the bill, and that “it doesn’t surprise me as all.”

“China doesn’t want us to pass this bill, they know that this bill will allow us to out compete them,” she said.

Secretary Raimondo’s entire testimony can be found here. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to tell your Members of Congress to finalize the Bipartisan Innovation Act, and make sure it includes trade tools to help American workers and companies compete.

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