By Gordon Brinser on February 24, 2012
Last week’s visit to the United States by China’s vice president and presumptive next leader, Xi Jinping, comes amid significant strains between our two countries.
While President Obama and China’s vice president certainly had much to discuss at their White House meeting, we now know the current solar trade dispute between America and China was near the top of the agenda.
That’s good news for America’s solar manufacturing industry.
President Obama and the two leading Republican candidates, former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum, have made the issue of China “playing by the rules” of international trade an important part of their campaign platforms. All three have also stated their support for American manufacturing because they know that manufacturing jobs — with higher wages, benefits and a larger job multiplier than average — are the type of jobs we want to increase in the United States.
Again, that’s good news for America’s solar manufacturing industry.
When SolarWorld filed antidumping and countervailing petitions in October with the U.S. Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission, we did so as part of an effort to fight for U.S. renewable-energy manufacturing and American jobs.
We alleged that China’s state-sponsored solar industry has been receiving massive illegal subsidies and illegally dumping crystalline silicon solar products into the U.S. market for years.
So far, the case is going our way. The ITC issued a unanimous preliminary decision in December confirming that Chinese trade practices are harming the U.S. solar manufacturing industry. The Commerce Department is expected to make preliminary determinations on anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties on Chinese imports next month.
Let me be clear: SolarWorld, which has operated in Camarillo since the late 1970s, took these steps not because we are looking for special treatment or unfair advantage, but because we support free and fair trade.
Free trade between nations should not involve illegal intervention by a foreign government. Companies should be allowed to compete on a level playing field, and the marketplace should drive innovation and decide which companies thrive.
Until this level playing field returns, we must continue to fight for America’s renewable-energy industry and the many U.S. jobs that come with it. Fortunately, we are not alone.
We have the support of the other members of the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, which includes more than 150 U.S. employers of more than 15,000 workers. They represent companies in the solar industry, who have chosen to fight for U.S. renewable-energy manufacturing jobs.
The quality of America’s products is second to none. Moreover, we operate under some of the most stringent environmental, labor, safety and transparency rules so we know what we can be proud of what we produce.
Increasing domestic production and consumption of American-made solar products will strengthen our economy at home, improve the world environment and spur additional innovation that will make solar even more cost-competitive.
Just as important, this revival will also increase America’s role as a leader in future solar energy technology development. America pioneered solar technology and grew a manufacturing industry in Ventura County.
SolarWorld and predecessor owners Arco Solar, Siemens Solar and Shell Solar have made and sold solar products in Camarillo for more than 35 years. The industry’s importance will only increase in years to come. America is already well-positioned to be a leader in solar innovation and create thousands of new solar manufacturing jobs in the process. But that can only happen if trade rules are applied and followed by everyone.
Solar energy also has a major role to play in helping secure America’s national security. Simply put, countries with energy and manufacturing sources can better direct their economic destinies. Our military understands this.
That is why it is leading the charge to develop renewables. With a strong solar energy manufacturing base, we reduce our reliance on foreign countries that sometimes act against our national interests.
Vice President Xi Jinping could have gone a long way toward warming relations between our countries by pledging to end his nation’s illegal trade practices. If China’s solar products were superior or its production costs lower, which they are not, then its manufacturers should welcome the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.
America’s solar industry can compete with any foreign company, anywhere, anytime — but only so long as those foreign companies adhere to established international trade law.
By enforcing America’s trade laws, the government is helping rebuild America’s renewable energy manufacturing base. That’s something that will be good for America today, tomorrow and well into the future.
• Gordon Brinser is the president of SolarWorld Industries America, the largest U.S. solar manufacturer, with U.S. headquarters in Hillsboro, Ore., and commercial operations in Camarillo.