WASHINGTON -- The U.S. International Trade Commission took the first step toward imposing added tariffs on Chinese solar imports.
It said subsidies for the products harm equipment makers such as SolarWorld AG.
The trade panel voted unanimously Friday in a preliminary ruling on a petition by SolarWorld, based in Bonn, Germany, calling for antidumping and countervailing duties. The commission will proceed with a full investigation.
U.S. companies' complaints about their Chinese rivals have been amplified by the controversy surrounding Solyndra Inc., a California solar panel maker that went bankrupt after a half-billion-dollar federal loan from the Obama Administration.
U.S. companies have asked the government to impose steep tariffs on Chinese solar imports.
The unanimous vote by the International Trade Commission means the case will continue.
The solar panel manufacturers have struggled against stiff competition from China as well as weakening demand in Europe and other key markets. Meanwhile, President Obama is working to promote renewable energy. Solyndra, which is not involved in the trade case, cited Chinese competition as a key reason for its failure.
The commission's vote does not impose penalties but says there is reason to believe Chinese imports harm or threaten to harm the U.S. solar panel industry.
The companies that filed the complaint said the ruling affirmed their claims that massive subsidies by the Chinese government are enabling Chinese producers to drive out U.S. competition. The dispute centers on makers of rigid polysilicone solar panels and not the thin-flim variety made by three Toledo-area firms.