President Donald Trump is right to take on our national trade imbalance with China.
For too long, millions of American jobs and thousands of factories have disappeared as other countries, particularly China, game the system, break the rules and flood the U.S. market with below-cost imports that are breaking the back of American manufacturing.
I’ve seen it happen in the solar cell and module industry.
Our company alone had to lay off hundreds of employees this spring because we can’t keep up with Chinese imports.
Sadly, that same scenario has played out in nearly 30 solar manufacturing companies over the past five years - costing thousands of U.S. jobs and about $1 billion in investments.
I don’t want to keep seeing good, hardworking Americans continue to hear the same thing.
And thankfully, we have a president who is willing to be tough to create fair and reciprocal trade for U.S. manufacturers.
He is in the right place at the right time, and his recent visit to China couldn’t have come at a better moment.
This month, the International Trade Commission (ITC) voted on remedy recommendations for Trump so he can bring U.S. solar manufacturing back to life.
The commission had already ruled unanimously that cheap solar imports have flooded the U.S. market and caused significant injury, driving an entire industrial segment to the brink of extinction.
The ruling and recommendations came as a result of a complaint under Section 201 of the Trade Act we filed at Suniva, joined by SolarWorld Americas — the two largest remaining U.S. solar cell and module manufacturing companies.
At one time, my company employed 350 people in four states.
Winning before the ITC mattered, but ultimately it is up to Trump to impose a remedy that works, and unfortunately the watered-down recommendations sent to him by the commissioners don’t do enough.
Different commissioners supported different plans, which include a mix of tariffs and quotas at various levels, but all of them fell short of the stronger tariffs and quotas we know are needed to reopen factories and eventually invest in new ones to save this high-tech American manufacturing sector.
To get their way, Chinese companies have joined and influenced American trade groups, resulting in a concerted lobbying and advertising campaign against an effective remedy.
(Suniva has a mix of both domestic and foreign investment including from Shunfeng International Clean Energy Ltd., a Chinese company that acquired 63 percent of our firm in 2015..
We think it is better to have a mix of foreign and domestic ownership employing American workers here than it is to outsource Americans jobs.)
With earlier ITC rulings, China skirted past tariffs by moving companies and factories to proxy countries, laughing at the United States and continuing to steal American jobs.
That’s why we filed the 201 complaint — to give the president the ability to say, “Enough is enough, we’re going to enforce fair trade and ensure American manufacturers get to compete on even footing.”
Beginning in 2006, the Chinese government has made dominating the solar industry part of its five-year economic plans, and has aggressively subsidized their manufacturers so they could sell products below what it costs to make them.
Since that moment, the United States has gone from a trade surplus on this American-invented technology to a more than $8 billion annual trade deficit.
We operate in the United States in a fair market, expected to make a profit and stand on our own two feet.
That’s what we did, planning, always improving the technology we helped develop locally at Georgia Tech, and working with local communities where we built our plants in Norcross, Ga., and Saginaw, Mich.
We did it right. But China cheated.
Through hacking of U.S. companies, the theft of technology secrets and forcing prices to drop, they have all but finished off America’s solar manufacturing industry.
As a result, countries the size of Montana now have more manufacturing capacity in solar than the United States does.
The threat goes beyond the loss of jobs, the loss of research and development tied to manufacturing, and the loss of control of an emerging industry.
With growing use of Internet-connected smart technology in solar panels, having China produce and control a key energy source poses a potential national energy and cybersecurity threat.
Unfortunately, the recommendations made by the ITC don’t go far enough to make up for all the damage.
Our proposal for a real remedy includes tariffs as well as a minimum price for cells and modules that will make it possible for Suniva and others to start opening plants and putting people back to work in good-paying, middle-class jobs.
Now that he has returned from China, Trump should deliver a strong message: American solar must compete on equal footing.
Matt Card is executive vice president at Suniva, a Georgia-based solar cell and module manufacturing company.