Trump Should Hit China Hard on Stealing Solar Panel Jobs, Prof. Says

International Trade Commission case now on president's desk represents a chance to send tough trade message

by Greg Autry | Updated 19 Jan 2018 at 8:59 PM

President Donald Trump owes his upset victory in the 2016 election to current and former blue-collar workers in struggling manufacturing centers who felt abandoned by the pro-globalist center-left Democrats.

Many of them had supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries for the very same reason. They have put their trust in Trump because he promised to deal seriously with America’s trade deficit and specifically to crack down on Chinese theft of America’s well-paying manufacturing jobs.

He now has the perfect opportunity to do this. A U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) case sits on his desk, awaiting his decision on the appropriate remedy. Swift and firm action on this case will right a great wrong done to American firms, workers and taxpayers. More importantly, it will signal to Beijing and every other nation that the U.S. government is once again putting the economic interest of Americans first.

The case against China in solar manufacturing was so clear that the ITC ruled unanimously in September that its dumping was a “substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry.”

The ITC reached this conclusion based on ample evidence of state-sponsored collusion among Chinese firms. In fact, the Communist Party’s 11th, 12th and 13th Five-Year plans all explicitly called for targeting the solar power market.

Worse, private cybersecurity firms and the FBI have demonstrated that units of the Chinese military hacked American solar firms (and just about every other industry) in order to share technical, strategic and financial data with Chinese national firms.

The Department of Justice felt strongly enough that it issued indictments against five Chinese military officers specifically caught in the act of stealing American secrets from corporate networks.

Sadly, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a nominally American trade organization, is run by solar installers corrupted by access to cheap Chinese panels and Chinese modules that are assembled into panels in Taiwan or Malaysia as a way to hide their country of origin.

Letting a communist dictatorship target and destroy one American industry after another, using its military to help, is the exact opposite of “free.”

At one point in 2014, SEIA even provided “informal legal advice to the Chinese and Taiwanese side.” SEIA is working hard to make sure the battered U.S. manufacturers stay down, via misleading media campaigns painting these struggling firms as the bad guys.

When the president of Solar4America, a U.S. installation company, challenged SEIA’s support of Chinese solar manufacturers in spite of their “having been found guilty of illegal and unfair widespread underselling and dumping of Chinese solar panels and their components,” SEIA ignored him.

While international trade is a powerful force for economic development and opportunity, letting a communist dictatorship target and destroy one American industry after another, using its military to help, is the exact opposite of “free.”

Related: If You Want to Disarm North Korea, Mr. President, Sanction China

Trump should choose the very strongest responses in this case. I’d encourage him to enact both a tariff and a quota on imported cells and modules. Doing so will leave no doubt about the outcomes for cheaters in other categories.

Regardless of what happens in solar, bold action today will avoid a repetition of this disaster in the future as the Chinese set their targets on additional American industries — including automobiles and airliners.

Greg Autry is assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. He is the co-author, with Dr. Peter Navarro, of the book “Death by China.”

(photo credit, homepage image: Nellis AFB Solar panels, CC 0, by USAF / China State Visit, cut out and colored, CC BY 2.0, by Foreign and Commonwealth Office; photo credit, article image: Troop Talk, CC 0, by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres) Any parties involved in this imagery do not imply endorsement.

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