President Trump's announcement Monday that he will raise tariffs on the solar-energy components industry to 30 percent could hurt Butte’s REC Silicon operation, a spokesperson for the company said.
The plant, which employs around 200 people, is mostly engaged in making electronic-grade polysilicon for the electronics industry. But it’s affected in an “indirect fashion,” Francine Sullivan, REC Silicon vice president of business development, said Tuesday.
"It’s not a good outcome," Sullivan said. "We need the China market."
REC Silicon's Moses Lake, Wash., plant produces solar-grade polysilicon and is impacted by the solar panel industry. The Norway-based company has laid off more than half of its employees since the trade war began in 2014 under the Obama Administration. The Butte plant lost about 30 employees last fall.
“The prices we get (for solar-grade polysilicon) affect the overall health of the company,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “It would be a huge boon to Butte if the China market reopens.”
But Sullivan said the company remains hopeful that the trade war will end despite Trump’s decision. The company sent a letter in early January to Trump, signed by more than 300 employees from both plants, to not impose the tariff.
The U.S. International Trade Commission began an investigation into the trade war with China last year. The commission concluded last fall that solar panels imported into the U.S. are "a substantial cause of serious injury … to the domestic industry," and recommended a 35-percent tariff.
By statute, the president had 60 days to take action on the commission's report.
REC Silicon Chief Executive Officer Tore Torvund said through a news release that he is hopeful the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative can reach an agreement with China, despite the tariff, “to protect our dedicated and innovative U.S. employees.”
“It is imperative that the U.S. administration take constructive steps to resolve this prolonged harmful dispute in the near term. In times of rising global polysilicon demand, opportunities for U.S. polysilicon manufacturers … should be experiencing healthy expansion, not rapid contraction.”
The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade association for the solar industry, said through a news release that Trump’s decision will cause the loss of around 23,000 jobs in the U.S. this year.
Congress has no authority to change or veto Trump’s decision. Countries affected by the decision can appeal to the World Trade Organization, according to the Associated Press.
China accused Trump of jeopardizing the multilateral trading system by taking action on complaints under U.S. law instead of through the World Trade Organization, the AP reported Monday.
“The U.S. side once again abused its trade remedy measures,” said a Commerce Ministry statement. “China expresses its strong dissatisfaction with this.”
The Butte plant is located southwest of Butte in the Montana Connections Business Development Park.