SEIA: TPP will offer advantages for solar

After years of negotiations, today 12 national governments released more than 2,000 pages of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the mammoth trade deal involving some of the world’s most powerful nations on the Pacific Rim.

In the United States, this begins a period of at least 90 days of review by Congress and broader public before the bill can be signed. Due to the fast-track trade authority granted to President Obama, Congress does not have the option to amend the agreement, and can merely vote it up or down.

The U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which has supported the TPP, says that the agreement will have benefits for solar, including eliminating tariffs on solar components.

“It will really help U.S. exports going in to other countries,” John Smirnow, a consultant for SEIA, told pv magazine.

The 12 nations involved in the TPP include Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, all of which have significant PV manufacturing. The deal does not include China and Taiwan, which host the bulk of global PV manufacturing.

Trade agreements are generally sold to skeptical populations by being advertised as being better for nations inside the agreement than outside. When asked whether or not TPP would give PV manufacturing in Japan, Malaysia and Singapore an advantage over Chinese and Taiwanese products, Smirnow replied that “It certainly could.”

This is particularly relevant for the Western solar industry. All of REC Solar’s manufacturing is located in Singapore, and a number of U.S. and European companies manufacture in Malaysia, most notably First Solar.

REC Solar’s shipments to the United States will be less affected, as the U.S. already has a bilateral trade agreement with Singapore.

Smirnow says that there is language in the TPP text that calls for a commitment to incentivizing clean energy, as well as provisions on facilitation, and improving the movement of goods between nations.

He also notes that the TPP includes an agreement to strengthen intellectual property rights, but was unable to comment on if that might affect the transfer of solar technology.

SEIA’s embrace of the TPP and of trade liberalization in general stands in stark contrast to the position of the solar industry’s traditional allies in the environmental community.

Sierra Club is calling on members of congress to vote against the TPP, alleging that the agreement would give multinational corporations the power to cripple environmental laws. Greenpeace, 350.org, Friends of the Earth and Natural Resources Defense Council have all opposed the agreement.