This protectionism is based on a basic economic error

Trade protection in renewable industries such as solar power misses the fact that the fortunes of U.S. firms, like European and Japanese firms, are tied to the Chinese solar industry through global supply chains. In the United States, the low cost of Chinese solar modules directly benefits companies developing and installing solar projects. Analysis suggests the Suniva petition would increase solar system prices in the United States, probably slowing deployment. Little wonder the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that 88,000 jobs may be at risk.

But the problem is broader than political polarization over climate change. The previous trade cases occurred during the Obama administration. Europe has implemented similar measures, although it is moving to reduce duties on imports.

U.S. trade law is part of the explanation. It is relatively easy for companies threatened by imports to shape policy. Those that benefit have fewer tools of influence. The solar fights suggest that in a world of globalized manufacturing, policymakers and institutions are not necessarily guided by benefits to the economy as a whole. Today, big parts of the thriving solar industry are under threat, as is the progress made toward cleaner electric power in the United States.

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