While President Trump spent much of his electoral campaign maligning the trade deals that the U.S. has entered into over the past two decades, he hasn’t done much besides pulling out of Obama’s Trans-Pacific trade partnership that had yet to be ratified and talk about renegotiating NAFTA… until today.
The President imposed stiff tariffs today on solar panels and imported washing machines by using a rarely-invoked trade rule to take unilateral retaliatory action against foreign produced products that “are a substantial cause of serious injury to domestic manufacturers,” according to one U.S. Trade Representative quoted by Reuters.
While the tariffs on solar panels was welcomed by domestic manufacturers of the essential alternative energy components, the tariffs will reduce competition in the market and raise prices for one of the main renewable energy resources available to most Americans at a time when the Trump administration is already doing everything it can to increase the traditional non-renewable energy sectors of oil drilling, fracking, and coal mining.
The price of solar panels has dropped by nearly 30% over the last two years due to inexpensive Chinese-made imports, making solar power much more competitive against the more traditional energy options and helping shift a larger percentage of power consumption towards cleaner, non-polluting sources.
While solar panel manufacturers supported the tariff and wanted an even higher levy than Trump imposed, the overall solar industry trade group, the Solar Energy Industries Association, opposed them, citing an estimated loss of 23,000 U.S. jobs this year and the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments as a result of the new tariffs.
“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” said SEIA President Abigail Ross Hopper.
With the two main U.S. based solar panel companies already under foreign ownership, the only potential American beneficiaries for these tariffs would be the few people who manage to land any new jobs that may be created by any increase in manufacturing output by the U.S. solar companies. While a lucky few may get jobs, the rest of the country will suffer from higher prices for clean energy, more pollution from traditional fossil fuel plants, and a slower move towards pervasive renewable energy usage that will slow climate change and rescue our environment.
Expect further protectionist trade actions from the Trump administration in the months ahead, with tariffs on imported steel and aluminum being weighed, along with sanctions against China for intellectual property violations.
While many people feel that U.S. trade sanctions are necessary to restore a level playing field to industry sectors that have suffered from overseas competition subsidized by their home countries, trade sanctions work both ways. Trump’s tough stance on trade may wind up backfiring if the countries we target with sanctions and tariffs decide to retaliate and close their markets to imported U.S. goods, creating a potentially huge drop in business for American producers that rely heavily on exports, such as the agricultural and tech sectors.
The crucial question facing America right now is whether the fossil fuel industry oligarchs will continue to influence trade policy to their benefit at the expense of the rest of the country’s health, well-being, and prosperity.