US and China close to formal trade settlement talks

The US and China are close to opening formal negotiations based on the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) draft settlement of the ongoing solar trade dispute between the two countries, according to officials from both sides.

The SEIA put together a six-page draft document at the end of summer 2013 with a view to ending existing trade legislation and replacing it with a settlement fund that Chinese manufacturers would pay into. The document was produced in an attempt to bring an end to the long-running solar trade disagreement between the US and China.

“It’s still very early stage. We think there is a real opportunity to start a negotiating dialogue in the near term,” John Smirnow, vice president of trade and competitiveness at SEIA told PV Tech. “I’m not aware of any talks around any other proposal. As far as we know this is the only thing people are working on now. We are working to get everyone in the room, we don’t have a date yet, but we want to kick-start the negotiations.”

Smirnow also said the six pages had been whittled down to one page of key conditions that has now been circultaed around all parties. Since the draft was put together, SolarWorld Americas has launched a new petition that would close what it calls “a loophole” in existing US trade tariffs on Chinese manufacturer.

The SEIA proposal would also include the termination of this latest petition and Smirnow said SolarWorld was ready to talk. “We have an open dialogue with SolarWorld about trying to get a negotiation started. SolarWorld has signalled that it is open to negotiations,” he said adding that the SEIA’s Chinese members had contributed to the proposal as well. Smirnow also said consultation with China’s Chamber of Commerce Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products (CCCME) were ongoing.

The CCCME, which represents the Chinese manuafcturers, told PV Tech it was in the interest of both sides to find a solution. “We are still at very early stage with SEIA,” an official said. “Like the case with the European Union, we always uphold the industry through cooperation to resolve trade friction. If SolarWorld have any ideas they can communicate them to our industry, we do not want it to use such an extreme way to solve problems and cause trade friction. We hope to resolve the friction through cooperation,” she said.

“SolarWorld has recently launched a new investigation, we believe this is an abuse of the rules; the product range in its complaint is very vague. Such investigation is for its own benefit. They put aside the benefit of the photovoltaic industry of both countries.
“Having a growing shortage of fossil fuel energy, new energy is the future development direction; the photovoltaic industry is a very important branch of new energy. To initiate such an investigation not only harms the interests of the two countries, it will cause damage to the environment and new energy development. We are reluctant to see such things happen,” she added.

The talks between the SEIA and CCCME were alluded to by new Wuxi Suntech CEO Eric Luo during an interview with PV Tech.

“I have seen the package deal, it is still under discussion between SEIA and CCCME but I think it is highly possible that they will strike a deal and present it to the US Department of Commerce,” he said. “I hope they can reach a deal. Otherwise us module manufacturers will have too much uncertainty. We are against any trade barrier.

“President Obama has a big renewable energy policy and I don’t think this second investigation is helping anyone, SolarWorld or Chinese manufacturers.”

Luo also revealed that the idea for a negotiated settlement originally came from the US department of commerce following the conclusion of the EU-China trade talks.