By Howard Dicus
HONOLULU and WASHINGTON (HawaiiNewsNow) - The biggest APEC event Tuesday could be something that isn't even happening at APEC.
The U.S. International Trade Commission holds a Tuesday hearing in Washington on an unfair trade charge filed by an Oregon company, a U.S. division of the German company Solar World, accusing China of restrictive tariffs on solar panels. The company wants the United States to charge retaliatory tariffs when China sells solar panels in America.
China has a thriving renewable energy industry, and Chinese interests now control Honolulu-based Hoku Corp., which has built a plant in Pocatello, Idaho, that makes polysilicon, the key ingredient in the most commonly used kind of solar panel.
The Obama administration comes to APEC with hopes of persuading China to agree to reduce its tariffs on U.S. renewable energy products. Officials of the Commerce Department, which could rule as early as Wednesday on the Solar World allegation, says China charges almost 7 percent in tariffs while U.S. tariffs are well under 2 percent on renewable energy products.
"I understand China may be uncomfortable with it," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the Bloomberg News Service Monday. "We're always going to try to push the envelope."
Michael Green, who was President George W. Bush's senior Asia advisor, agrees that it is in America's interest to push for a broad agreement on things like this rather than "draw a line down the middle of the Pacific."
China may object to specific proposals but does not seem to object to the general idea. The Xinhua news agency reported Monday that the theme of the Hawaii conference was a "seamless regional economy," though it quoted Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Hailong as saying, "Some of the U.S.'s expected outcomes are beyond the capacity of the developing members."
The same report, however, says Assistant Commerce Minister Yu Jianhua described "green growth" positions as "sharply" differing.
If renewable energy isn't a $1 trillion global business yet, it will be soon. The Commerce Department estimates it topped $800 billion three years ago and kept growing during the recession because of the desire to reduce soaring fuel bills. China comes nowhere close to charging the highest tariffs, which can be twice as high or more in countries like Malaysia and the Philippines.
One of the many corporate CEOs in Hawaii this week for APEC is the head of General Electric, a major manufacturer of wind turbines.