US President Donald Trump on Monday took action in two pending trade disputes, imposing tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines.
Both actions represent Trump’s first tariff orders , which are also his most consequential trade actions since the early days of his presidency when he withdrew from a Pacific trade deal and launched negotiations to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The moves comes in response to petitions from American manufacturers, who complained for years that rising imports were eating into their sales, and may signal the start of a wider administration offensive against U.S. trading partners.
“There’s a real chance that this opens the floodgates,” said Chad Bown, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
On solar panels, Trump imposed tariffs of 30 percent in the first year, which will gradually fall to half that figure in four years.
Those levies were less severe than requested by Suniva and SolarWorld, the two companies that sought the government relief.
The Suniva-SolarWorld request for protection was opposed by much of the domestic U.S. solar industry.
Tariffs make solar panels more expensive, and thus discourage their use, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
An estimated a third of the 260,000 Americans currently employed in the industry are at risk because of the tariffs over the longer term, the group said.
“It boggles my mind that this president, any president, really, would voluntarily choose to damage one of the fastest-growing segments of our economy,” said Tony Clifford, Chief Development Officer for Standard Solar in Rockville, Maryland.
“This decision is misguided and denies the reality that bankrupt foreign companies will be the beneficiaries of an American taxpayer bailout.”