China Solar Dispute Boils With New Allegations

If the U.S. solar industry’s leading trade organization was hoping to close the gap between the two factions at war over how to deal with cheap Chinese imports, well, it ain’t happening. The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), the SolarWorld-led group that brought the trade allegations that have resulted in stiff preliminary duties on Chinese solar cells and modules, today lashed out at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), accusing it of failing to live up to its pledge of neutrality.

And while that internecine battle was going full-tilt, the Chinese also ramped up hostilities. Bloomberg News reported that China’s Ministry of Commerce said it had reached a preliminary conclusion that subsidy programs for renewable energy in five states — California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio and California — violate international trade rules.

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That move by the Chinese figures to escalate tensions both internationally and within the U.S. solar industry, where the parties seem to be digging in their heels — witness CASM’s outrage that SEIA would call for negotiations.

“As a SEIA member, I am extremely disappointed that SEIA would call for a premature settlement of our trade dispute,” Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America and head of CASM, said in a statement released before the Chinese made their own announcement today. “SEIA has maintained that it would take no position in this case, but its actions speak louder than its words.”

What drew Brinser’s ire was an SEIA statement last week in reaction to the U.S. Commerce Department’s decision to slap anti-dumping duties of around 31 percent on China’s largest solar companies, including Trina and Suntech.

“The solar industry calls upon the U.S. and Chinese governments to immediately work together towards a mutually-satisfactory resolution of the growing trade conflict within the solar industry,” SEIA said in the May 17 statement. “While trade remedy proceedings are basic principles of the rules-based global trading system, so too are collaboration and negotiations.”

Brinser today bristled at the suggestion that CASM should move an inch to avoid a trade war with China. He suggested the manufacturers he leads were merely defending themselves against an assault by the Chinese government conducted with “massive illegal trade practices.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.