US imposes solar duties on China because of subsidies

The US has imposed duties on Chinese solar panel manufacturers after it said that they received unfair subsidies.

Chinese exporters into the US - including Suntech - will now face customs tariffs of between 2.9% and 4.73%, the Commerce Department said.

In 2011, imports of solar cells from China into the US were valued at $3.1bn (£1.96bn), it added.

The price of solar panels dropped more than 30% last year, mainly linked to cheaper panels made in China.

"Countervailable subsidies are financial assistance from foreign governments that benefit the production of goods from foreign companies," the Commerce Department said.

China's Suntech, the world's largest producer of solar panels, will now face duties of 2.9% to offset what the US said is its subsidy from the Chinese government.

Another firm, Changzhou Trina Solar Energy, will receive duties of 4.73%.

All others face duties of 3.61%.

US customs will collect deposits equivalent to these amounts now and the Commerce Department will make a final ruling in June.

The US will also rule on whether China's solar panel output is violating its anti-dumping rules on 17 May.

Chinese firms have said that they are not the only ones that receive government help - for example, the US has subsidies to encourage people to install solar panels.

China has already said it will launch its own investigation into US government support for renewable energy.