U.S. Solar Firm Launches Trade Action Against China

'China has a plan for our market: To gut it, and own it,' said CEO of SolarWorld Industries America.

In a new show of anger at China's trade practices, SolarWorld Industries America, a subsidiary of Germany-based SolarWorld AG, announced on Oct. 19 that it was filing a formal complaint targeting Beijing.

The action came as U.S. lawmakers who blame China's rise for lost American jobs have stepped up calls for Washington to confront Beijing.

The firm's president, Gordon Brinser, accused China of having "illegally subsidized" solar cells and panels, dumping them onto the U.S. market "at artificially low prices" that threaten to "decimate" U.S. competitors.

"China has a plan for our market: To gut it, and own it," Brinser said at a news conference in a U.S. Senate office building.

SolarWorld, which calls itself the largest U.S. solar manufacturer, said it filed an administrative complaint asking the U.S. government to investigate and to impose retaliatory duties on imports of certain Chinese solar cells and panels. It filed petitions with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission seeking punitive duties slapped on Chinese exports of competing products.

The company had previously accused China of improperly subsidizing its solar sector as part of a no-holds-barred commercial battle for supremacy over an industry experts estimate to be worth trillions of dollars in the future.

The move was sure to draw an angry response from China, where officials have condemned recent U.S. Congress assaults on Beijing's trade practices as an effort to distract from lawmakers' incompetence in fixing the battered U.S. economy.

Beijing last year provided more than $30 billion in help to its largest solar manufacturers, roughly 20 times more than Washington's investment over the same time period, a top U.S. Energy Department official told lawmakers last month.

"This is just what they have announced. China has undoubtedly extended support well beyond what they have disclosed publicly," Jonathan Silver, head of the department's loan programs office, testified to a House committee. "No country has been as aggressive as China," he said, noting that "the race for solar manufacturing jobs is a race worth winning. Over the next four decades, this is a global market estimated to be worth trillions of dollars."

SolarWorld said it was acting on behalf of a six others in a newly formed "Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing" that accounts for a large enough portion of U.S. solar cell and panel production to meet the legal threshold to pursue trade action against China. The coalition says on its web site that illegal Chinese subsidies have cost the U.S. solar sector thousands of jobs and forced at least seven companies to close or pare down their operations in the past 18 months.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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