US-Chinese trade war heats up

16. November 2011 | Top News, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends, Trade cases | By:  Becky Stuart

Set to be one of solar’s biggest topics of 2011 - a year already riddled with immense price pressure, insolvencies and investment issues - the U.S.-Chinese trade war is heating up. SEMI is the latest participant to make public its disgruntled feelings towards the petition. Meanwhile, CASM has vented its frustration at CASM’s defense of China’s "anti-competitive trade aggression".

US Chinese flags

There is much confusion surrounding the US-China trade dispute.

And so the mud (and acronym) slinging begins. Since SolarWorld submitted its petition to the U.S. Government in October, there has been a constant back and forth between members of both sides of the debate, which is becoming increasingly complex.

The latest development has seen SEMI (Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International), a global industry association, weighing in with its opinion. According to a statement released, it believes the dispute could threaten the U.S. solar industry.

"A U.S.-China solar trade war could obstruct global solar trade and negatively impact many U.S. exporters of solar products," added the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) in a separate statement. It cited U.S. export figures from SEIA, the U.S. Solar Energy Industry Association, which show that the U.S. is a net exporter of solar products to China by more than USD$200 million dollars, and to the world by nearly USD$2 billion.

It adds that currently 100,237 people are employed in the U.S. solar industry. This figure is set to increase to 24,000 next year. However, Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison and CASE coalition’s co-founder and chairman, warns that rather than "political instability and protectionism", it is global solar industry competition that both "drives costs down and creates thousands of American jobs".

He added, "Let's put an end to this. There are no winners in a trade war.  Every day we fight amongst ourselves, we lose credibility. The only people slapping hands right now are solar industry critics."

Confusion

pv magazine reported last week that on Tuesday, November 8, the petition was expanded to include solar cells. SolarWorld’s Ben Santarris has disputed this claim, saying that the case always "expressly" covered cells.

However, according to Jesse Pichel at Jefferies, the case was indeed expanded to include cells on Tuesday 8. In response to a question from a participant during last Wednesday’s conference call on the matter, he stated "Before you answer that, I'm not sure if you're aware, but SolarWorld and the petitioners expanded the case yesterday to include not just solar modules but also the cells which are assembled into modules."

pv magazine has contacted SolarWorld again to clarify the matter, and is still waiting for a response.



War of the acronyms

In another statement issued, the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) has asked the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) why it is "defending China’s anti-competitive, unsustainable trade aggression?" CASM is looking to understand how an "unprecedented surge of dumped and subsidized exports made according to weak environmental standards and shipped halfway around the world could possibly benefit U.S. consumers or the environment, as the importers claimed this week."

According to CASM, between 2008 and 2010, there has been a 310 percent "surge" in Chinese exports to the U.S. They have brought neither technological nor cost advantage, says the coalition, which goes on to blame the Chinese for the 40 to 50 percent price drop in modules seen this year.

Raju Yenamandra, vice president for sales and business development for SolarWorld stated, "In recent months and years … Chinese manufacturers have mounted a wild grab for world-industry control by putting a wide array of illegal and unregistered subsidies into service, causing massive oversupply in the market and creating distortions to international competition."

pv magazine has contacted both CASM and CASE for a response to the debate. To date, CASE is the only party to have responded.

Background

CASM was set up in October, to support SolarWorld’s move. While the seven members which started the coalition remain anonymous, the 138 associate member companies are listed.

Just weeks later, another coalition was established, designed to lock horns with CASM. CASE is said to comprise over 25 "leading" U.S. solar companies. Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison has been named as the coalition’s co-founder and chairman. The other members are: Alpine Solar Energy, LLC; AltPOWER, Inc.; American Solar Systems, Inc.; Canadian Solar; Carbon War Room; Carolina Solar Energy LLC; Gaia Worldwide, LLC; groSolar; Lighthouse Solar; Lumos; MEMC/SunEdison; PetersenDean; Rochlin Corporation; Russell Pacific; Solar City; SolarFirst, Inc.; Sungevity; Suntech America; SunRun; Syncarpha Solar, LLC.; Trina Solar U.S. Inc.; Verengo, Westinghouse Solar; and Yingli Americas.


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