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US Mulls Solar Trade Agreement With EU, China

Employees carry solar panels at a solar power plant in Xinjiang, China (2012 photo)
The United States, China and the European Union have had initial discussions on a possible “global” agreement to resolve solar energy disputes, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

“There have been some initial discussions with both the European market and China about how to deal with this on a global basis,” White House international economic affairs adviser Mike Froman said at a Senate hearing on his nomination to be U.S. trade representative.

The United States last year slapped duties on billions of dollars of solar energy products from China that it said were unfairly priced and subsidized.

The European Union has recently imposed similar duties on the Chinese goods, but has held talks with China on a possible negotiated settlement.

China responded to the U.S. duties by threatening duties on U.S. exports of polysilicon, which is used to make solar cells, and is also threatening duties on European wines.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, pressed Froman on the need for a deal covering all three trading partners.

“As you and I have talked about, our country can't resolve this on its own. We've got to have really a global settlement. We've got to have an opportunity for governments to discuss this - ours, China and Europe,” Wyden said.

He accused the Chinese of circumventing U.S. duties and urged Froman to move aggressively to strike a deal if confirmed as USTR.

“This is a hugely important issue. We've got to be able to be producers in renewable energy,” Wyden said.

Froman said he supported a global agreement because the current disputes threaten to harm polysilicon manufacturers, solar panel manufacturers and solar panel installers.

“I look forward to working with you in determining how to do that in the best way possible,” Froman told Wyden.