The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) recently called on a group of Chinese solar cell and panel importers to explain how what CASM contends is an unprecedented surge of dumped and subsidized exports made according to weak environmental standards and shipped halfway around the world could possibly benefit U.S. consumers or the environment, as the importers claimed this week. Moreover, the CASM, led by SolarWorld Industries America Inc., emphasized the right of U.S. manufacturers and their workers to use trade remedy laws to seek relief from such imports, as permitted by the World Trade Organization.

“Trade law investigations are not ‘protectionism,’ and to say so is inflammatory and diversionary,” said Tim Brightbill, a partner at Washington, D.C., law firm Wiley Rein and lead attorney on the case. “When a country engages in anticompetitive practices that harm our industries, we have every right, even a duty, to respond with appropriate action.”

The CASM said that China’s harmful trade practice speaks for itself: a 350% surge in Chinese exports to the U.S. from 2008 to 2010 and even greater escalation this year without any technological or cost advantage. Labor accounts for just 10% of production costs, and Chinese importers bear the additional costs of shipping. Yet the surge has prompted a 40-50% collapse in prices in the past year, harming the U.S. green technology industry. All the while, China exports the vast majority of its solar products and uses comparatively little in its own market.

“From decades of ingenuity, sweat and determination, employees of U.S. manufacturers and above-board competitors from Japan, Germany, and elsewhere have boosted efficiencies and lowered costs to the point where solar is reaching price equilibrium with fossil fuels,” said Raju Yenamandra, vice president of Sales and Business Development for SolarWorld. “In recent months and years, however, Chinese manufacturers have mounted a wild grab for world industry control by putting a wide array of illegal and unregistered subsidies into service, causing massive oversupply in the market and creating distortions to international competition.

“I have profound trouble understanding how anyone could make the case that China’s trade violations are beneficial, economically or environmentally,” Yenamandra said. In September, SolarWorld said, it was forced to close its Camarillo manufacturing facility, laying off nearly 200 workers, largely due to Chinese dumping and subsidies.

Further, the CASM said it is surprising that a executive of the Carbon War Room, an advocacy group dedicated to reducing carbon production, would lead the Chinese importers in championing their trans-world shipping of supposedly clean energy products, especially considering China’s abysmal environmental record on manufacturing, its low regard for labor and civil rights, and its general lack of transparency.

As recently as September, it took an uprising of an estimated 500 community residents to temporarily shut down a solar factory complex operated by Jiangxi Jinko Solar Co. in China, according to various news reports, after the residents had raised concerns for months about fish kills and other environmental and health ills from the state-sponsored Jinko’s handling of chemicals. At least 20 protesters were detained, according to media reports.

“Are advocates of China’s state-sponsored exports serious in suggesting that the U.S. environment and economy will suffer as a result of our coalition standing up for high-standard American manufacturing and jobs and standing against China’s anti-competitive tactics?” Yenamandra asked. “We have asked the U.S. government to investigate whether China’s tactics are legal and, if so, to restore sustainable international competition. Ensuring fair competition and the prosecution of illegal trade practices is not ‘protectionism,’ and calling it so is a baseless mischaracterization. We call it righting a wrong.”

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