Trump slaps tariffs on foreign solar panels and washing machines

(CNN/WIVB) - The Trump administration is imposing tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines.

The announcement marks President Trump’s first major trade action of 2018 and follows his campaign promise to get tough on America’s trading partners.

 A tariff, or tax, of 30% will be applied to imported solar panels, most of which come from China. Tariffs will begin at 20% on large residential washing machines, according to the announcement Monday from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

“The President’s action makes clear again that the Trump Administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses in this regard,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

The decision comes after the independent U.S. International Trade Commission determined that imports of solar panels and washers had hurt American companies.

It also carries some symbolism: Lighthizer’s team resumes NAFTA negotiations with its counterparts from Mexico and Canada on Tuesday. Later this week, Trump himself is expected to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an event for global elites who promote free trade and oppose protectionist measures like tariffs.

Lighthizer also recently started to renegotiate a trade agreement between South Korea and the United States that he and Trump blame for increasing the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea since 2012.

The solar panel tariff is a blow to China, the primary country from which the U.S. imports solar panels. But it also could put some U.S. jobs at risk. Most of the American jobs related to solar panels involve installation, not manufacturing.

Tesla’s Gigafactory 2, located in Buffalo, began producing solar roof tiles in December.

“Tesla is committed to expanding its domestic manufacturing, including Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York, regardless of the solar tariff decision today,” a Tesla spokesperson said Monday.

Overall, about 260,000 Americans work in the solar industry, up 24% from 2015, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

A separate advocacy organization, the Solar Energy Industries Association, warned before the tariffs were announced that such an action would put 48,000 to 63,000 American solar industry workers out of a job this year.

U.S. solar panel manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld filed a petition last year with the ITC to investigate the sale of solar panels marketed well below typical U.S. prices. The practice is known as “dumping.”

South Korea and Mexico are the biggest losers from the washing machine tariffs. Those countries export the bulk of washers to the United States. Much of the production in the two countries is under the umbrella of South Korean giants Samsung and LG.

For the first 1.2 million washers imported to the United States, the tariff will be 20%. After that, it goes up to 50%.

American washing machine maker Whirlpool had filed a petition going back to 2011, accusing LG and Samsung of selling their washers at prices below the average in the U.S. market.

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