Home / News / World /  US to take India to WTO over solar power policy

Washington/New Delhi: The US on Monday said it would take India to World Trade Organization (WTO) to gain a bigger foothold for US manufacturers in its fast-growing solar products market, adding another irritant to an already strained relationship.

The Barack Obama administration said it was filing its second case at the WTO over the domestic content requirements in India’s massive solar programme, which aims to ease chronic energy shortages in Asia’s third-largest economy.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman said making Indian solar developers use locally made equipment discriminated against US producers and could hinder the spread of solar power. “Domestic content requirements detract from successful cooperation on clean energy and actually impede India’s deployment of solar energy by raising its cost," Froman said.

It is the second time in a year that Washington has sought a consultation at the WTO—the first stage in a dispute process that can lead to sanctions—over India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission.

The ongoing trade spat between the two allies follows the recent arrest and strip search of a woman Indian diplomat in New York in connection with visa fraud charges. The arrest sparked fury in India, prompted retaliatory measures against US diplomats there and plunged US-India relations to their lowest point since India tested a nuclear device in 1998.

The USTR issued its first challenge to India’s solar programme last February when it formally requested consultations over its first stage. The programme aims to double India’s renewable energy capacity by 2017.

US officials hoped a second phase of the programme would address Washington’s concerns, but now fear the harm to American producers would likely be even greater because the rules were expanded in October to cover so-called thin film technology that comprises the majority of US solar product exports to India.

India hit back at the initial US accusations in April, asking Washington to justify its own incentives offered to US companies that use local labour and products in renewable energy and water projects. The Indian embassy in Washington was not immediately available for comment on the latest trade action.

India has argued its solar policies are legal under WTO government procurement rules that permit countries to exempt projects from non-discrimination obligations.

Years in the making

Froman said the action did not undermine the value that the US placed on its relationship with India, saying: “Today’s action addresses a specific issue of concern and in no way detracts from the importance we attach to this relationship." Attorneys for the USTR said later such cases took months to prepare.

US solar trade groups cheered the move and said the US had been patient in its discussions with India. “The US government spent two years talking with India trying to encourage them to move away from the local content requirement before initiating the first action roughly a year ago," said John Smirnow, vice president of trade and competitiveness for the Solar Energy Industries Association. “We are almost three years in the making of the US trying to get India to move back from this local content requirement."

US environment groups have urged the Obama administration to back off any WTO action, arguing that building up India’s solar power industry will help it cut high greenhouse gas emissions.

But the administration has come under growing pressure from lawmakers and business groups to take a tougher stance on perceived Indian protectionist measures and intellectual property rights abuses by Indian drug companies.

India is widely perceived in Washington as a serial trade offender, with the US companies unhappy about imports of everything from shrimp to steel pipes they say threaten jobs.

The US International Trade Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing into complaints of trade barriers erected by India on Wednesday and Thursday.

There are 14 past or current WTO cases between India and the US, whose bilateral trade in goods measured $63.7 billion last year, not including the latest case. Reuters

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