Report: U.S. Solar Trade Surplus with China and World Vanished in 2011

U.S. Goes from Net Exporter to Net Importer of Solar Products in One Year; Federal Data Show Dramatic Rise in Chinese Imports and Decline in U.S. Exports Across Solar Industry Value Chain in 2011

Washington, D.C., March 1, 2012 — The United States' once-vaunted solar-industry trade surplus with China disappeared between 2010 and 2011, according to findings released today by the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM). The U.S. solar industry had an estimated $1.6 billion trade deficit with China in 2011, after enjoying an estimated $250 million to $540 million surplus in 2010. CASM's findings are based on data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), as well as a prior study by GTM Research.

"This new data, drawn from official government sources, finally buries the Chinese importers' tired, shop-worn and factually incorrect talking point that the U.S. solar industry has a trade surplus with China," said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., the largest U.S. manufacturer of solar cells and panels. "Chinese importers often claim that the modest U.S. trade surplus in 2010 proved that China is not threatening the U.S. solar industry and economy. But it is no longer 2010, and any trade surplus is history. Illegal dumping by massively subsidized Chinese solar producers, combined with curbed exports of polysilicon and manufacturing equipment, are decimating U.S. solar manufacturers, the supply chain and their export business."

The SolarWorld-led CASM, which represents about 15,000 workers at more than 150 U.S. companies, asserts that this dramatic shift illustrates China's systematic and pervasive use of illegal subsidies and dumping practices to seize the U.S. solar market and eliminate its manufacturing jobs. As a result of these actions, at least 12 domestic producers have undertaken layoffs, gone bankrupt or closed plants in all regions of the country over the past two years.

"As a first step to rekindling growth of renewable-energy manufacturing and jobs," Brinser said, "we must restore robust, legal and sustainable international competition." As U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden remarked Tuesday, "If China is breaking trade rules to give its industries an unfair advantage, it's important that trade rules be enforced and tariffs be applied to negate that unfair advantage."

According to a GTM Research study released by the Solar Energy Industries Association in August 2011, the United States not only ran a positive trade balance of between $250 million and $540 million with China in 2010 but also a nearly $2 billion trade surplus in solar exports worldwide. Applying the same data sets that GTM Research used, CASM looked at the U.S. industry's competitive position with China and the world. The analysis shows that in 2011 the United States became a net solar importer from both. Specifically, the findings show, Chinese imports of solar cells and panels rose from $1.192 billion in 2010 to $2.801 billion in 2011, a jump of $1.608 billion – 135 percent. U.S. exports of solar manufacturing equipment and polysilicon to China – products for which the United States ran a significant trade advantage in 2010 – declined by $170 million and $194 million, respectively, in 2011, according to CASM's findings. Globally, the United States had an estimated $2 billion solar trade surplus in 2010; by the end of 2011, the nation incurred an estimated $1.6 billion global solar trade deficit.

Today's report is the latest in a series of reports that demonstrate the deterioration of the U.S. solar industry, compared with China. Other recent reports include two from the staff of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee's Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness – Losing the Environmental Goods Economy to China (February 2012) and China's Grab for Green Jobs (October 2011) – and separate reports from two policy nonprofits: Shining a Light on U.S.-China Clean Energy Cooperation from the Center for American Progress (February 2012) and China's Trade Barrier Playbook from Third Way (February 2012).

On Jan. 30, Commerce took expedited action against China's massive, evasive surge of solar cell and panel exports to the United States by issuing a preliminary finding of "critical circumstances." The ruling means that if the agency makes a preliminary determination to impose anti-subsidy duties on March 19 (announced March 20), the duties will apply not only to all ensuing imports of Chinese cells and modules, but also to Chinese products imported since late December 2011. The timing of the "critical circumstances" finding ahead of the preliminary determination is unprecedented. On March 27, Commerce is scheduled to make its preliminary anti-dumping determination on whether to impose duties to offset the effects of Chinese export pricing at artificially low prices in the U.S. market.

"Evidence continues to mount that China is resolved to dominate the global solar energy market and destroy America's solar manufacturing industry and jobs. Enough is enough. China's illegal trade must stop," Brinser said. "Commerce and the ITC must continue to take all necessary means to enable America's solar manufacturers to compete in fair and free trade – free of illegal foreign government intervention – in the U.S. market."

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