Sunday, June 3, 2012

Obama’s Tariffs on China’s Solar Products Will Cost U.S.

Simple economics holds that if you want to promote mass adoption of something, you have to make it affordable and available.

This week, the Obama administration is poised to slap potentially hefty tariffs on imports of Chinese solar products, a move that will satisfy a protectionist urge but undercut the U.S. energy agenda. It’s no secret China is aggressively subsidizing its solar manufacturers, driving down prices for solar panels and components. Here’s the question: Is that a bad thing?

One of the administration’s overarching goals -- and one we heartily endorse -- is fostering the adoption of clean, non- carbon-based energy, including solar. In a perfect world it should matter less where the technology comes from than whether affordable solar is enabling office buildings, universities and households to install the technology and cut down on fossil-fuel use.

Slapping tariffs on the Chinese may make for good politics, but it will slow solar adoption and almost undoubtedly provoke retaliatory trade actions by a country with which the U.S., like it or not, is inextricably linked. It’s not lost on the Chinese that the U.S. has its own share of clean-energy subsidies. A better approach would be to try to negotiate a clean-energy trade agreement with China and other countries trying to promote renewables. Such an agreement would have to spell out the types and levels of allowable government assistance; restrict protectionist measures, such as requiring locally produced components and services; and be subject to dispute resolution by the World Trade Organization.

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