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U.S. Solar Trade Surplus With China Turns Into Gaping Deficit, Says Coalition of Manufacturers

Last summer, we wrote about a trade report from GTM Research showing that the U.S. had a $247 million solar trade surplus with China in 2010 — an unexpected tip of the scales that came mostly from exporting polysilicon and manufacturing equipment.

GTM analysts haven’t updated their study yet. But a coalition of American manufacturers just released its own report showing that the U.S. lost that surplus in 2011. By a lot.

According to the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), the U.S. now has a $1.6 billion trade deficit with China. The group, which supports an anti-dumping complaint recently filed with the International Trade Commission, concludes that the deterioration of U.S. solar manufacturing due to unfair trade practices has turned America’s $1.9 billion global trade surplus into a $1.5 billion trade deficit.

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.

The organization is using the study to highlight its belief that Chinese solar firms are dumping product into the U.S. market:

A leading cause of this reversal is a massive surge in Chinese exports of dumped and subsidized solar cells and modules, which, in 2011, more than doubled the totals of 2010, increasing from more than $1.2 billion to more than $2.8 billion. Further, exports to China of products for which the United States had a significant trade surplus in 2010 – polysilicon (the main raw material used to produce solar cells) and solar manufacturing equipment – declined precipitously in 2011, falling by $194 million and $170 million, respectively (a 21 percent combined decrease).

The CASM report comes on the heels of a report released by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, which found that the U.S. trade deficit for environmental goods grew by almost 90% in 2011 — a figure that includes both wind and solar technologies.

The solar industry is still waiting for an official ruling on whether or not Chinese solar companies have been unfairly subsidized. The Commerce Department was supposed to issue a decision last week on whether or not to enforce tariffs on Chinese solar equipment. But the decision has been delayed until later this month.

The solar trade issue has stirred a fierce debate within the industry, creating a rift between manufacturers struggling to compete with depressed panel prices and developers depend on those continued price reductions.

This story was originally published on Climate Progress and was republsihed with permission.

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