U.S. Solar Trade Surplus Vanishes

March 2, 2012
Trade data show sharp rise in Chinese imports.

In its March 2011 "Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,' the Obama Administration said, "A global race is underway to develop and manufacture clean energy technologies, and China and other countries are playing to win." Score one for the Chinese.

The trade surplus U.S. solar manufacturers had with China disappeared in 2011, according to a report from the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing. After enjoying a surplus of $250 million to $540 million in 2010, the industry faced an estimated $1.6 billion trade deficit in 2011.

CASM's findings are based on data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), as well as a prior study by GTM Research.

The new data prove that any trade surplus the U.S. solar industry had with China is "history," said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of SolarWorld AG, the German manufacturer of solar cells and panels. "Illegal dumping by massively subsidized Chinese solar producers, combined with curbed exports of polysilicon and manufacturing equipment, are decimating U.S. solar manufacturers, the supply chain and their export business."

CASM, which represents about 15,000 workers at more than 150 U.S. companies, said the deficit illustrates China's "systematic and pervasive use of illegal subsidies and dumping practices to seize the U.S. solar market and eliminate its manufacturing jobs." As a result of these actions, CASM asserts, at least 12 domestic producers have undertaken layoffs, gone bankrupt or closed plants over the past two years.

According to a GTM Research study released by the Solar Energy Industries Association in August 2011, the United States not only ran a trade surplus with China in 2010 but also a nearly $2 billion trade surplus in solar exports globally.

Applying the same data sets that GTM Research used, CASM found that in 2011 the United States became a net solar importer. Chinese imports of solar cells and panels rose from $1.192 billion in 2010 to $2.801 billion in 2011, an increase of 135%. U.S. exports of solar manufacturing equipment and polysilicon to China products for which the United States ran a significant trade advantage in 2010 declined by $170 million and $194 million, respectively, in 2011, according to CASM's findings.

Globally, the United States went from an estimated $2 billion solar trade surplus in 2010 to an estimated $1.6 billion global solar trade deficit in 2011.

On March 27, the U.S. Department of Commerce is scheduled to make its preliminary anti-dumping determination on whether to impose duties to offset the effects of Chinese export pricing at artificially low prices in the U.S. market.

"Evidence continues to mount that China is resolved to dominate the global solar energy market and destroy America's solar manufacturing industry and jobs. Enough is enough. China's illegal trade must stop," Brinser said. "Commerce and the ITC must continue to take all necessary means to enable America's solar manufacturers to compete in fair and free trade free of illegal foreign government intervention in the U.S. market."

See also:

Viewpoint: What is Really Happening to America's Solar Industry?

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