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Trump Thwarted in Latest Bid to Kill Solar-Tariff Loophole

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 10/26/2020 Brian Eckhouse
a close up of a fence: Photovoltaic panels are seen near the U.S.-Mexico border in this aerial photograph taken over the Mount Signal Solar Farm in Calexico, California, U.S. on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. As the threat of blackouts continues to plague California, officials are pointing to battery storage as a key to preventing future power shortfalls. But the Golden State is going to need a lot more batteries to weather the next climate-driven crisislet alone to achieve its goal of a carbon-free grid. © Bloomberg Photovoltaic panels are seen near the U.S.-Mexico border in this aerial photograph taken over the Mount Signal Solar Farm in Calexico, California, U.S. on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. As the threat of blackouts continues to plague California, officials are pointing to battery storage as a key to preventing future power shortfalls. But the Golden State is going to need a lot more batteries to weather the next climate-driven crisislet alone to achieve its goal of a carbon-free grid.

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. trade court temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s latest bid to end a loophole it had granted on two-sided solar panels.

The order Saturday came weeks after President Donald Trump moved to eliminate a tariff exemption for so-called bifacial, panels. Prior to that proclamation, the government tried for more than a year to revoke the exemption, only to get repeatedly thwarted by the trade court.

Court of International Trade Judge Gary Katzmann issued a temporary restraining order that effectively prevents the tariff exemption from being removed for two weeks, unless the court takes other action during that time. A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative didn’t respond to an email seeking comment about the order.

China-based manufacturer JinkoSolar Holding Co. gained 0.8% to $64.87 at 12:28 p.m. in New York.

Read: Solar Stocks Tumble After Trump Moves to Cut Tariff Loophole

In early 2018, Trump approved four years of tariffs on solar panel imports, starting at 30% and to be reduced by 5 percentage points in each subsequent year. The tariffs were part of a campaign promise to get tough on China, which dominates solar-panel manufacturing, and to boost the U.S. industry.

But his administration surprised many in the sector when it granted an exclusion for bifacial panels in 2019. While bifacial was considered a niche product, the tariffs had encouraged some new solar manufacturing in the U.S., and module imports exempt from those duties posed a threat.

Read Also: The Solar-Powered Future Is Being Assembled in China

In the October proclamation, Trump said it was necessary to revoke the bifacial exemption because the loophole has “impaired and is likely to continue to impair the effectiveness” of the tariffs intended to bolster U.S. solar manufacturing.

That’s why he also said it was necessary to set tariffs on most imported solar cells and modules at 18% starting in February, instead of reducing them to 15% from 20% as originally planned.

(Updates with solar company’s shares in fourth paragraph)

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