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Trump issues new tariffs on imported washers and solar panels

Along with Chinese-made solar panels, the announcement singles out Samsung and LG as "substantial causes of serious injury" against US manufacturers.

The Trump administration has singled out foreign-based manufacturers of washing machines and solar panels, with new tariffs aimed at leveling the playing field for domestic producers.

The announcement, released late Monday from the office of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, documents the findings and recommendations of the US International Trade Commission (ITC) following a pair of investigations launched under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974.

The first follows complaints from US-based manufacturer Whirlpool against Korean-based manufacturers Samsung and LG, each a relatively recent insurgent into the US appliances market. The ITC's report makes no specific claims of wrongdoing, but dubs Samsung and LG as "a substantial cause of serious injury" against domestic manufacturers, citing the ITC's investigation as well as a public hearing conducted by Lighthizer earlier this month.


Samsung calls the new tariffs "a tax on every consumer who wants to buy a washing machine."

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The result: fresh tariffs issued by President Trump -- specifically, a 20 percent tariff on the first 1.2 million washing machines imported in year one, with that number jumping to 50 percent for all subsequent imports. Both numbers decrease in years two and three, settling at 16 and 40 percent, respectively.

"Today's announcement is a great loss for American consumers and workers," a Samsung spokesperson tells CNET. "This tariff is a tax on every consumer who wants to buy a washing machine. Everyone will pay more, with fewer choices."

"Samsung greatly appreciates the support of the many South Carolina and other officials who have advocated on our behalf. We already have hired more than 600 U.S. workers at our new South Carolina factory, and we began U.S. production of our high-quality washing machines on January 12th. Consumers are choosing Samsung premium washing machines for their innovation and design."

LG struck a similar tone in a lengthy statement, calling the move "a textbook case about how certain companies can game the process to use trade laws to try and accomplish what they can't accomplish in the marketplace." The statement goes on to tout LG's upcoming manufacturing facility in Clarksville, Tennessee.

The second investigation started after a 2017 petition from Suniva and SolarWorld, two solar manufacturers based out of China and Germany, respectively. Each claim that unfair business practices from low-cost competitors based in China caused harm to their sales. 

The ITC agreed with them. Its report cites the recent spike in domestic solar generation capacity, which it claims has been partly spurred by artificially low-priced units from China. In 2011, the report says, the US Commerce Department determined that Chinese solar cell producers were selling their wares in the US for less than their fair market value -- from there, the report claims that they evaded the resulting antidumping duties using loopholes, including relocating their facilities to Taiwan, and then to other countries like Germany and Korea.

Again, the ITC determined that these factors and others constituted a substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic solar industry. In response, President Trump authorized new, additional safeguard tariffs of 30 percent, excluding the first 2.5 gigawatts of imported cells. That number is scheduled to drop each year before settling at 15 percent in year four.

Kevin Steinberger, policy analyst, Climate and Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the decision "shortsighted and counterproductive," and issued the following statement:

"The cost of generating solar energy from rooftop panels has plummeted by more than 85 percent in less than a decade, but President Trump's action will reverse that progress. Higher-priced panels will dramatically reduce the pace of new solar energy installations, increase climate-changing emissions, and lead to significant job losses nationwide."

Updated at 7:15 PM EST on 1/22/18 to include comment from Samsung and LG.