Steel Producers Back U.S. Solar Manufacturing Industry’s Unfair Trade Case

solar manufacturing industry
A worker at SolarWorld Americas Inc., based in Hillsboro, Oregon, inspects a bifacial Bisun laminate before it is framed

Americas Inc., the largest U.S. crystalline-silicon solar manufacturer for more than 42 years, was grateful for the decision of the Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA) to support the U.S. solar cell and panel manufacturing industry’s Section 201 trade case to restore fair competition in the U.S. market. SolarWorld Americas and Suniva are co-petitioners in the case.

SMA sent a letter to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), urging the ITC to vote on Sept. 22 that global overcapacity has produced a surge of imports into the United States that has seriously injured the domestic solar manufacturing industry. The steel association represents 30 North American producers, collectively accounting for about 75 percent of all steel production in North America. In all, SMA members employ 60,000-plus workers in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

SMA has direct experience with 201 cases and was a key player behind the last Section 201 case on behalf of the U.S. steel industry. The organization, the letter says, “was instrumental in petitioning the U.S. government for Section 201 relief in 2001 to save the U.S. steel industry, and knows firsthand the devastating effects that global overcapacity can have on domestic manufacturers.”

While the U.S. solar manufacturing industry secured import duties, primarily against China, in two previous trade cases, that relief was not enough. “Although these trade cases provided the industry with some relief, they were no match for the massive support that foreign producers, particularly those in China, receive from their governments,” the letter says.

“Relief from these imports is imperative,” the letter says. “For the steel industry, the temporary Section 201 relief provided critical stability at a time of crisis. The U.S. solar industry desperately needs similar breathing room. As the backbone of the solar industry in America, domestic cell and module production must not be lost to foreign imports. These core competencies must be allowed to grow and thrive.”

Nearly 30 U.S. producers have shut down their manufacturing operations since 2012. Between 2012 and 2016, imports into the United States from all countries increased nearly five-fold. This surge was led by China, whose imports rose by more than 700 percent, according to U.S. International Trade Commission figures.

“We are grateful that the Steel Manufacturers Association has tapped its experience in fending off the effects of unfair trade to provide us support in our own struggle,” said Juergen Stein, president of SolarWorld Americas. “The solar-panel manufacturing industry, like steel, is an industry worth fighting for in light of its importance to our economic future.”

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