China puts US on notice over solar panel trade curbs ahead of Trump trip

Commerce ministry rejects US trade commission ruling on low-cost Chinese products

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 10:37pm

Beijing sent a tempered warning to Washington against trade curbs on the weekend after a US agency concluded that imports of Chinese solar panels had hurt two American manufacturers.

China’s Ministry of Commerce called on the United States to “exercise caution” on trade restrictions and rejected the US International Trade Commission’s ruling on Friday that the cheap imports were responsible for the woes of the two companies.

The commission now has two months to review the case and make recommendations, such as tariffs, to US President Donald Trump. If Trump does not take action he could be seen as failing to meet his “America First” protectionist agenda; if he does, it could overshadow his planned trip to China later this year.

In a statement on Saturday, Wang Hejun, director of the ministry’s Trade Remedy and Investigation Bureau, said the commission’s ruling ignored strong opposition from other countries, US state governments, and “downstream” solar enterprises.

Trade panel says cheap imports from China and other countries hurt US solar industry

Wang said the ruling “has not only increased uncertainty in the normal international trade of solar products but is also unhelpful to the healthy and balanced development of the US’ domestic solar market”.

“We hope the US investigative authorities will strictly follow the provisions of the World Trade Organisation, and exercise caution when using trade restriction measures,” Wang was quoted as saying.

The trade commission case was brought by Georgia-based Suniva and Oregon-based SolarWorld Americas, which said a flood of imports had pushed them to the brink of extinction. Suniva declared bankruptcy, while SolarWorld had to lay off three-quarters of its workforce.

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But opponents argued that tariffs on solar imports could double prices and dent the renewable energy industry.

The case is seen an early test of Trump’s trade policies and the commission is expected to deliver its recommendations before mid-November, around the time of the US president’s first visit to Beijing.

A final decision on tariffs could be expected in January.

Trade will loom large during the China trip, given Trump’s administration has regularly accused China of employing unfair trade practises.

Additional reporting by Associated Press