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The U.S. is launching an investigation into whether Chinese solar-equipment manufacturers are evading tariffs by sending components to other Asian nations for assembly before shipping finished products to the U.S.

The U.S. Commerce Department said in filings Monday that it would open the probe requested by Auxin Solar Inc., a small California panel maker, marking the first formal step of an investigation that could span a year and culminate in expanded duties on the imports.

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