Cambodian Solar Panels Flagged for Alleged Dumping Into US

3 min read
Solar panels in Siem Reap. (Karl Baron/Creative Commons)

Cambodia and three other Southeast Asian countries will be investigated for dumping solar panels into the U.S. market, as a Cambodian Commerce Ministry spokesperson welcomed U.S. officials to investigate.

The U.S. Commerce Department announced March 28 that it would be investigating solar panel exporters from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam following a complaint lodged by U.S.-based panel producer Axion Solar, alleging the countries were dumping panels and undermining competition for U.S producers.

Commerce Ministry spokesperson Pen Sovicheat told VOD that a Cambodian government representative based in the U.S. capital had received a letter from the U.S. Commerce Department on March 28 about the investigation, but he did not have any more details about the crux of the investigation.

He said the government would be happy to comply with requirements of a trade investigation, such as answering questions or facilitating a visit to Cambodian solar factories, but he believed the companies would be open to the U.S. inquiries.

Cambodia has previously been flagged by the U.S. government for transshipment — or falsely claiming that manufacturing occurred within the country in order to get beneficial tariff waivers. The U.S. Customs department claimed in 2020 that the Sihanoukville SEZ was transshipping Chinese-made plywood, cabinets and pipe-fitting.

Though the factories are not assembling panels from foundation material, Sovicheat claimed that Cambodian workers were undertaking complex assembly tasks, and the factories were spending money in Cambodia on workers’ salaries, construction permits, electricity and water, and setting up in special economic zones.

“We are not exporting much but we have to comply” with the investigation, he said. “We do have our own confidence in that we have factories, we have manufacturing lines, we think our job done here by Cambodian workers is sufficient enough to be considered [as] manufactured in Cambodia in the parts and components [process].”

According to international trade tracker Panjiva, four Cambodia-based companies — New East Solar Energy (Cambodia), Jintek Photovoltaic Technology, Enalex Energy and Hounen Solar — have each made more than 100 shipments of solar modules to the U.S.

The four companies could not be reached from contact information on their websites or Commerce Ministry listings.

Cambodia’s solar panel exports to the U.S. have grown rapidly in the last three years, valued at $18 million in 2019 and rising to $233 million last year, according to UN Comtrade data. The second highest importer of Cambodian solar, India, imported $4.4 million worth of photovoltaic cells in 2021.

But among the four countries named in the investigation, Cambodia exports the least solar products to the U.S., with Malaysia and Vietnam exporting $2.5 billion and Thailand exporting $1.3 billion last year, according to trade data.

Though he said he didn’t know about the value and amount of panels exported, Sovicheat said he was aware that Cambodia’s solar panel exports make up a smaller portion of U.S. products than other manufacturers in Southeast Asia.

The U.S. based industry group Solar Energy Industries Associations has also criticized the investigation into Cambodian and other Southeast Asian manufacturers, saying the U.S. doesn’t have the capacity to manufacture solar panels to meet the country’s climate goals by itself.

SEIA president Abigail Hopper suggested that heightened obstacles to imports caused by tightening tariffs could cost some 70,000 U.S. jobs in the solar industry.

“The mere threat of tariffs altered the industry’s growth trajectory and is one of the reasons why we’re now expecting a 19% decline in near-term solar forecasts. Taking up this case will have a chilling effect on the solar industry,” she said in a statement.

S&P Global reported that U.S. solar industry businesses were already experiencing the chilling effects from the investigation.

In November, the U.S. Commerce Department rejected a complaint against solar panel manufacturers from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam from a group called the “American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention,” which alleged the countries’ solar manufacturers were engaging in transshipment.

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