Battle Lines Are Drawn

The International Trade Commission (ITC) and U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) recently decided to launch what is expected to be a lengthy investigation into possible trade violations by Chinese solar manufacturers.

Both the trade complaint's petitioners – SolarWorld and its unnamed partners in the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) – and its opponents – the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) – immediately made it clear that they do not intend to quietly await the results. Instead, the two groups have launched an increasingly aggressive PR campaign targeting each other.

This battle is being fought primarily through an onslaught of back-and-forth press releases from the two groups. What seems to be at stake most frequently in their war of words is whether the CASM or the CASE represents ‘the majority’ of the industry.

For instance, the CASE cited an online survey posted by an industry publication that the group said revealed 76% of the solar sector supported its side. The CASM countered by calling the claim ‘patently reckless’ and ‘arbitrary,’ pointing out that the poll had just 140 respondents.

Industry association Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) found itself dragged into the conflict when the CASE released portions of SEMI's statement that expressed ‘concern’ about the trade probe. The CASM, however, called CASE's implicit endorsement from SEMI inaccurate and pointed to other quotations from SEMI that mentioned its support of trade rules.

SEMI itself has maintained its neutrality and, in fact, warned against straying from the facts. ‘SEMI urges that the case currently under review proceed on a factual basis and that the process not become politicized,’ the group said in a statement.

Unfortunately, ‘politicized’ seems to be exactly what the discussion has become. The two sides' sniping is beginning to bear a disturbing resemblance to the barbs commonly exchanged by our elected officials in the halls of Congress. Is this type of dialogue helpful to our industry? Is it healthy?

Taking the pulse of the industry on critical issues is, of course, valuable, and each side has claimed some high-profile supporters who have presented well-reasoned arguments.

But in the end, the outcome of this trade case will be not be decided by some sort of industry-wide vote. Aren't the only opinions and conclusions that truly matter the ones that the ITC and DOC draw from their investigation?

(For the record – lest either side interpret this column as either supporting or opposing the trade petition – Solar Industry does not have an official position on the matter!)Â

This Sun Dial Column was originally published in the December 2011 issue of Solar Industry.


Editor's note: To submit your own contribution to Viewpoints, email Jessica Lillian at jlillian@solarindustrymag.com.

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