The dangerous game U.S. lawmakers and businesses are playing on the issues of trade and currency policy in China, ones that perceivably give them unfair market advantages, took another step forward as a group of solar energy product manufacturers have fired a proverbial shot across the Chinese bow.
Stung by a steep downturned caused as much by foreign competition as domestic saturation or the economic malaise at home, a group of solar product manufacturers has filed a formal petition asking for significant duties/tariffs on Chinese-made imports of such products. The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, comprised of more than a half dozen U.S.-based firms lead by SolarWorld Industries America Inc., alleges China has been offering its producers illegal subsides, and its companies are “dumping” products in the United States, selling them at artificially low prices to undercut producers here.
The filing has generated at least some interest from the U.S. Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission. It comes in the same month as a hot, renewed push by the U.S. Senate on a proposed bill to demand the Chinese government allow its perceived artificially low currency value appreciate to appropriate, accurate levels. The perceived undervalued currency provides what many have seen as a massive trade advantage over its partners.
Chinese government and solar manufacturing officials denounced the move, with talk similar to that following the proposed Senate bill. Parties bandied about words like “protectionism” and argued the move could hurt both trade relations and the entire solar/alternative energy movement itself.
The highly publicized coalition filing comes on the heels of massive struggles on the part of U.S. solar product manufacturers. Stirling Energy Systems Inc. is the most recent to file for Chapter 7 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. It followed previous filings by SpectraWatt Inc., Solar and recently controversial Solyndra, a firm with ties to the Obama Administration reportedly being investigated federally for fraudulent business practices. Months before, BP solar operation halted its Maryland-based solar activities in favor of relocation abroad. The common theme outlined by all five solar operators was this: they can no longer compete with Asian producers who are undercutting them so drastically on pricing and costs.
Brian Shappell, NACM staff writer