Solar manufacturers including a unit of SolarWorld AG are preparing a U.S. trade complaint against China, as they seek to counter low-cost, subsidized imports, according to people familiar with the matter.
The case, which would be filed at the Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, would be one of the largest targeting China, with political implications as both nations race to develop clean-energy technologies.
The companies say that China’s subsidies to solar companies violate global trade rules and provide those manufacturers with an unfair advantage, according to the people, who spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity because no complaint has yet been filed.
“We are actively conversing with our federal contacts in seeking help on how to prevent China from decimating another U.S. industry,” Ben Santarris, a spokesman for SolarWorld Industries America Inc. in Hillsboro, Oregon, said in an interview. He declined to discuss a possible filing.
In the first seven months of this year, China shipped $1.4 billion of solar panels to the U.S., more than the $1.2 billion of panels it sent in all of 2010, according to U.S. International Trade Commission data. Imports from South Korea, the Philippines and India also jumped.
The collapse this month of Solyndra LLC, a California maker of solar panels that had $535 million in U.S. loan guarantees, has renewed demands from U.S. lawmakers and union leaders that the Obama administration pursue unfair-trade complaints against China for out-sized subsidies to its clean-energy companies.
“The environment-friendly green-technology policies introduced by the Chinese government are for the purpose of energy protection and ensuring sustainable development,” Wang Baodong, the spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said in October.
The volume of imports from China sped up as prices fell. China sent more solar panels to the U.S. in July of this year than in all of 2010, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data supplied by SolarWorld.
“The American solar industry is facing unparalleled challenges, and without the leadership of your administration this industry may disappear,” Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a Sept. 8 letter urging President Barack Obama to initiate a countervailing duty case against imports from China or to file a case at the World Trade Organization.
China provided $30 billion in credit to its biggest solar manufacturers last year, about 20 times the U.S. effort, Jonathan Silver, executive director of the Energy Department’s loan program, told a congressional panel Sept. 14.
SolarWorld Industries America, which is lobbying lawmakers such as Wyden to help protect its 1,000 jobs in Oregon, is owned by SolarWorld AG of Bonn, the biggest German maker of solar modules. The company said Sept. 2 that it was cutting almost 200 jobs at its facility in Camarillo, California.
“There is no cost advantage in China,” Santarris said. “But it is difficult for a Western company to compete with a centrally planned economy in China.”