Some call it trade conflict, others even war: Commentaries on the latest U.S. Department of Commerce ruling against Chinese solar panel manufacturers tend to focus on the extremes. However, nobody seems to have read the official fact sheet.
The Department of Commerce is hiding the material concerning the topic quite well on their web site. When I first tried to find something, the site search spat out a lot of gibberish. An enquiry by e-mail didn't get me a meaningful reply but at least the search function worked better afterwards. The main parts of the ruling are summarized in the 'Fact Sheet'. Download Factsheet-prc-solar-cells-ad-prelim-20120517
The main challenge in understanding this - at least for us non-economists - was figuring out the way the expression 'dumping margin' is used in the paper (in short: contrary to what an engineer would think). Assuming that the figures are correct (for a given value of 'correct'), either solar panels made in the USA are absurdely expensive or Chinese ones are free giveaways. Neither conclusion does make any sense, so we can only speculate about the background - I won't.
The rest of the 'fact sheet' allows for so many exceptions that hardly any Chinese manufacturer will have to come up with the maximum tariffs, even if the 'next steps' mentioned in the document are actually realized. It seems obvious that this 'ruling' is more politically than economically motivated, and the unexcited reactions of the Chinese government indicate that there's much less fire than smoke. It will certainly be interesting to see how this drama is going to play out.