Despite Forced Labor Concerns, Biden Lifts Solar Panel Tariffs
Once again, the Biden administration is putting its commitment to climate change ideology over any concern for human rights.
President Biden announced an emergency declaration this week lifting tariffs on solar panels from Southeast Asia. The declaration overrides previous executive action that placed tariffs on these solar panels. It does so at a time when makers of these same solar panel producers are under investigation over allegations that Uyghur forced labor was used in the production process in Xinjiang.
Biden’s decision acquiesces to the demands of solar panel importers wanting cheaper alternatives to American-made products. It’s worth asking how this might affect longstanding human rights concerns about solar panel production in the area. Approximately 40% of the world’s polysilicon production occurs in the Xinjiang region, where one million Uyghurs are being forcibly detained without legitimate cause and are often made to work for little or no wages.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the Commerce Department are both aware of the problems. CBP has banned specific Chinese companies that produce solar panels and are linked to Uyghur forced labor from importing silica-based products to the U.S. Similarly, the Commerce Department also has added certain Chinese entities that are involved in the production of solar panels to a trade blacklist.
While the emergency declaration does not allow for solar panel imports from China directly, the countries it does make exceptions for — Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam — utilize products made in Xinjiang. The Commerce Department is currently investigating some solar panel manufacturers in Southeast Asia that use Chinese-made parts to see if they are violating U.S. law. So, why lift tariffs on these companies now?
In 2019, the U.S. government determined there is an ongoing genocide against the Uyghur people being carried out by the Chinese government’s use of forced sterilization and forced abortion. At the end of 2021, Congress finally passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, aimed at preventing goods made by forced labor in Xinjiang from entering the United States.
A CBP official recently affirmed that the United States is ready to implement the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act when it becomes enforceable on June 21, 2022. Biden’s emergency order calls into question the administration’s commitment to eradicating forced labor from American supply chains.
Sadly, this is not the first time President Biden has prioritized his climate change agenda over human rights. When Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, was asked whether he raised human rights issues with his Chinese counterparts, he said, “That’s not my lane.” Reports indicate deep internal conflicts in the administration over the impact of advocating for human rights in China and their goal to cooperate with the Chinese government on climate change.
Some experts are also questioning the legality of Biden’s emergency declaration. One trade expert from the Cato Institute, Scott Lincicome, told the New York Times that it appeared “quite the stretch of the statute.” Typically, emergencies under the relevant trade law provision applies to war or drastic situations to import food and emergency supplies.
The reality is that lifting tariffs on solar panel manufacturers and lowering solar panel costs over the next two years will not help lower the price of gasoline for everyday Americans. Biden is making decisions that benefit companies with shady Chinese ties instead of empowering companies to manufacture products in America. If the Biden administration wants clean energy free from both fossil fuels and oppression, the obvious answer is to produce solar panels in the United States and maintain the tariff.
Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."