President Joe Biden found a novel use for the Defense Production Act — production of solar panels and other green technologies such as insulation and heat pumps.
The president has previously invoked the act for baby formula production, electric vehicle batteries, and COVID-19 measures. In using the Korean War-era legislation, the Biden administration asserts that climate action is key to national security.
And even better, the White House is waiving tariffs on solar panels believed to be of Chinese manufacture but illegally steered through other Asian countries. The Commerce Department is investigating the practice, but now companies no longer have to worry about paying the duties.
The circumvented panels are labeled as imports from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. However, since they are suspected to be from China, importers could face retroactive tariffs up to 250%.
But no more. For 24 months, the trade law applied to China is effectively on hold. Critics charge this action damages American solar panel producers and is potentially illegal interference in the Commerce Department’s responsibilities.
In a glaring example of White House logic — not to be confused with actual logic — spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre provided a fascinating response to a direct question. The reporter asked if Biden’s DPA actions will aid Chinese producers of solar panels.
She responded they will not, since “import duties will remain in place on solar cells and panels from China or Taiwan.” Ignoring the illogical inclusion of Taiwan, isn’t the whole point of the Commerce Department’s investigation that China is circumventing exports through other countries?
So, allowing these goods to be imported to the U.S. from highly suspicious origins — read China — doesn’t benefit China?
For the record, resistance to these “Chinese” products is bipartisan. The tariffs Biden is waiving were first imposed in 2012 by former President Obama. Many Democratic legislators oppose loosening trade enforcement and worry about dumping cheap goods into the U.S. markets.
And in 2021, congressional Republicans attempted to ban imports such as solar panels from China suspected of being produced by Uyghur detainees and forced labor.
Response to the moves, though largely negative from human rights watchers, is hardly unanimous. The Solar Energy Industries Association praises Biden’s temporary reprieve from tariffs, saying the probe has been “industry-crushing.” Perhaps, but hardly national security.