Union urges U.S. action on China clean-energy tactics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United Steelworkers union on Thursday accused China of illegal trade practices that threaten U.S. clean energy jobs and urged President Barack Obama’s administration take action to stop them.

“Green jobs are key to our future,” Leo Gerard, president of the steelworkers union, told reporters.

“Right now, China is taking every possible step -- many of them illegal under international trade laws -- to ensure that it will control that sector. America can’t afford to cede more of its manufacturing base to China,” Gerard said.

The case comes at a time when Obama has touted the potential for new jobs in wind, solar and other clean energy sectors as an engine for U.S. economic growth.

The steelworkers filed a formal “section 301” petition with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on Thursday, asking for an investigation of “China’s illegal activities in five key areas.”

USTR now has 45 days to decide whether to accept the petition, which could lead to one or more cases at the World Trade Organization if China does not address the concerns.

The union -- which represents 1.2 million active and retired members according to its website -- accused China of trying to dominate the global clean energy sector by showering billions of dollars of subsidies on domestic producers, discriminating against foreign firms and goods, restricting foreign access to critical raw materials and requiring foreign investors to transfer technology.

Tom Conway, the union’s vice president, said the United States is losing its leadership in the clean-energy sector “in large part because of China’s plans to control this industry no matter what. They’re breaking every rule in the book.”


Gerard said he hoped U.S. clean energy technology manufacturers like GE would back the petition. But the union did not solicit the advice or support of any U.S. company before filing the nearly 6,000-page document, he said.

A USTR spokeswoman said the agency would review the petition “in accordance with established procedures” and decide whether to accept it by Oct 24. That is 10 days before U.S. elections in which President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats are struggling to retain control of Congress.

“I applaud the United Steelworkers for filing this petition, and urge the administration to work without delay alongside workers and businesses to challenge China’s trade practices at the WTO,” said Senator Sherrod Brown.

“Clean energy represents the future of manufacturing. Acting now means that we won’t displace America’s dependence on foreign oil for a dependence on Chinese-made clean energy technology,” the Ohio Democrat said.

The Obama administration has so far stressed cooperation in U.S. dealings with China in the clean energy sector.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke led a trade mission of nearly two dozen companies to China in May to try to boost sales in that country’s renewable energy market which has been forecast to reach $100 billion by 2020.

Last October, Locke and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk got a high-level Chinese commitment to remove local content requirements for foreign participation in China’s wind farm market, which they said would boost U.S. jobs.

The steelworkers said they were unimpressed by pledges of U.S.-China cooperation on the clean energy front.

“We can’t rely on unending diplomatic niceties and non-productive photo opportunities masquerading as serious talks,” Gerard said.

“We’re hemorrhaging jobs, seeing our bilateral trade deficit skyrocket and jeopardizing our future,” he said.

Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Jerry Norton