“By taking this unprecedented — and potentially illegal — action, he has opened the door wide for Chinese-funded special interests to defeat the fair application of U.S. trade law,” Mr. Rashid said in a statement.
Commerce Department officials said their investigation would continue and that any tariffs that resulted from their findings would begin after the 24-month pause expired. “The president’s emergency declaration ensures America’s families have access to reliable and clean electricity while also ensuring we have the ability to hold our trading partners accountable to their commitments,” Gina Raimondo, the Commerce secretary, said in a release.
A Biden administration official said the administration was invoking Section 318(a) of the Tariff Act of 1930, which allows the president to suspend certain import duties to address an emergency.
But Scott Lincicome, a trade policy expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said that the administration’s actions seemed to be “quite the stretch of the statute.” The text of the statute allows the president to “declare an emergency to exist by reason of a state of war, or otherwise,” and during such a state of emergency to import “food, clothing, and medical, surgical, and other supplies for use in emergency relief work” duty free, Mr. Lincicome pointed out.
American solar companies have said that the prospect of more — and retroactive — tariffs was already having a chilling effect on imports. Groups such as the Solar Energy Industries Association have been lobbying the White House against the tariffs and on Monday welcomed news that the administration would pause any new levies.
“Today’s actions protect existing solar jobs, will lead to increased employment in the solar industry and foster a robust solar manufacturing base here at home,” Abigail Ross Hopper, the president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in an emailed statement.
“During the two-year tariff suspension window,” she said, “the U.S. solar industry can return to rapid deployment while the Defense Production Act helps grow American solar manufacturing.”