SolarWorld calls for WTO action over hacking

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The U.S. subsidiary of German solar manufacturer SolarWorld is pressing for America to file a trade case against China for the ‘violation of international agreements protecting trade secrets’ after it was allegedly hacked by a cyber unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Solar World Industries America was among six companies allegedly targeted by five members of Unit 61398 of the Chinese military in mid-2012, and says ‘corporate secrets’ it was preparing to submit to the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) investigation into Chinese state subsidies for solar manufacturers were stolen.

In a press release issued by SolarWorld yesterday, the Oregon-based subsidiary of the German manufacturer which has been so prominent in the movement to apply anti dumping (AD) and anti subsidy (AS) duties to its Chinese competitors, called for action at the World Trade Organization (WTO) as details of the alleged hacking emerged.

The five members of Unit 61398, named as Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu and Gu Chunhui in a report on the Triblive.com news website, are accused of hacking the data of SolarWorld as well as US Steel, Allegheny Technology – which, together with alleged fellow victim the United Steelworkers’ Union were involved in preparing trade cases against Chinese state subsidies – Westinghouse and Alcoa, in an indictment issued in Pittsburgh on May 19.

Claude Barfield, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, has pointed out in an article for the Tech Policy Daily website that, far from being proprietary information, the data allegedly taken from SolarWorld and its fellow trade case victims, related to strategies and pricing data by the companies in question to deal with competition from Chinese manufacturers.

Barfield adds, America’s notorious National Security Agency (NSA) has the capture of information to further the U.S.’ commercial interests within its purview.

SolarWorld was at the forefront of the decision to impose duties on Chinese solar products in late 2012 and has since been prominent in the move to close a loophole which allowed Chinese products featuring Taiwanese cells to avoid the duty regime.

The ITC imposed AS duties on such products earlier this month and is set to announce an AD verdict on Chinese-Taiwanese solar products on July 24.

The German parent company was a chief complainant in the EU’s AD and AS investigations into Chinese products which culminated in last summer’s minimum module price and trade volume cap agreement with Far Eastern manufacturers – a deal which prompted scorn from SolarWorld.

With the defendants in the cyber crime case unlikely to appear in the dock, the hacking row has stymied a co-operation between the China-US Cyber Working Group, set up in April 2013, and may give the Indian authorities pause for thought.

With the Chinese ministry of commerce among the respondents to an Indian ministry of commerce AD investigation that concluded duties should be applied to Chinese solar products – as well as those from Taiwan, Malaysia and, ironically, the U.S. – one of the statements tendered in opposition to the prospect of duties being applied stated simply: "India should handle this case with prudence."