Solar Boom or Bust? Companies Seek Tariffs on Solar Imports

Cheap solar panels imported from China and other countries have led to a boom in the U.S. solar industry, where rooftop and other installations have surged 10-fold since 2011.

But two U.S. solar manufacturers say the flood of imports has led one to bankruptcy and forced the other to lay off three-quarters of its workforce.

The International Trade Commission is set to decide Friday whether the imports, primarily from Asia, are causing “serious injury” to the companies. If so, the commission will recommend this fall whether the Trump administration should impose tariffs that could double the price of solar panels from abroad.

President Donald Trump has not cozied up to the solar industry, as he has for coal and other fossil fuels, but he is considered sympathetic to imposing tariffs on solar imports as part of his “America first” philosophy. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday.

Both sides of the dispute were making their case ahead of Friday’s meeting.

“Simply put, the U.S. industry cannot survive under current market conditions,” a lawyer for Georgia-based Suniva Inc. wrote in a petition filed with the commission. Suniva brought the case with Oregon-based SolarWorld Americas.

Opposition to tariffs

Governors of four solar-friendly states — Nevada, Colorado, Massachusetts and North Carolina — oppose the tariff, warning it could jeopardize the industry. They cited a study showing that a global tariff could cause solar installations to drop by more than 50 percent in two years, a crushing blow as states push for renewable energy that does not contribute to climate change.

“The requested tariff could inflict a devastating blow on our states’ solar industries and lead to unprecedented job loss, at steep cost to our states’ economies,” the two Republicans and two Democrats wrote in a letter Thursday to the trade commission.

A group of former U.S. military officials also urged the Trump administration to reject solar tariffs, noting that the Defense Department is the nation’s largest energy consumer and follows a federal law calling for the Pentagon to procure 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Suniva called the case a matter of fairness. Even with better manufacturing methods, lower costs and “dramatically improved efficiency,” the company has “suffered substantial losses due to global imports,” Suniva said in its petition. The company declared bankruptcy this spring after laying off 190 employees and closing production sites in Georgia and Michigan.

SolarWorld Americas, meanwhile, has trimmed its workforce from 1,300 to 300, with more cuts likely.

“After nearly 30 factories have shut down in the wake of surging imports, the legacy of this pioneering American industry hangs in the balance,” said Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas.

“We believe that the promise of solar — energy sustainability and independence — can be realized only with healthy American manufacturing to supply growing U.S. demand,” Stein said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Trade group speaks out

In a twist, the main trade group for the solar industry opposes tariffs and calls the trade case “an existential threat” to the industry.

“The stakes are exceedingly high. We are talking about 88,000 people in this country who could lose their jobs if these tariffs are put in place,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents an array of solar companies.

A global tariff could cause a sharp price hike that could force the U.S. to lose out on solar installations capable of powering more than 9 million homes over the next five years — more than has been installed to date, Hopper said. States could lose out on billions of dollars of infrastructure investment, she added.

Suniva and SolarWorld have themselves to blame for their struggles — not pressure from overseas, Hopper said.

“Here is the real story of this case: We have two foreign-owned, poorly managed companies using U.S. trade laws to put U.S. manufacturers out of business and causing U.S. employees to lose their jobs,” she said.

Indeed, while Suniva’s U.S. operations are based in Georgia, the company’s majority owner is in China. SolarWorld Americas is a subsidiary of German solar giant SolarWorld, which declared insolvency last month.

If an injury finding is made, the trade commission would have until mid-November to recommend a remedy to the president, with a final decision on tariffs expected in January.


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NASA’s Asteroid Chaser Swings by Earth on Way to Space Rock

NASA’s asteroid-chasing spacecraft is swinging by Earth on its way to a space rock.

Launched a year ago, Osiris-Rex will pass within about 11,000 miles (17,700 kilometers) of the home planet Friday afternoon. It will use Earth’s gravity as a slingshot to put it on a path toward the asteroid Bennu.

If all goes well, Osiris-Rex should reach the small, roundish asteroid next year and, in 2020, collect some of its gravel for return to Earth.

Friday’s close approach will occur over Antarctica. It will be a quick hello: The spacecraft will speed by at about 19,000 mph (31,000 kph). NASA has taken precautions to ensure Osiris-Rex does not slam into any satellites. Ground telescopes, meanwhile, have been trying to observe the spacecraft while it’s in the neighborhood.


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Mercedes-Benz to Invest $1 Billion in US Electric Car Plant 

German carmaker Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to invest $1 billion to start making electric vehicles at its manufacturing plant in the southern U.S. state of Alabama.

The luxury automaker said it will manufacture electric SUVs under Mercedes’ EQ subbrand at the plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in just more than three years. The expansion is expected to create 600 jobs.

Daimler-Benz, which has more than 30 plants worldwide, said the Tuscaloosa plant will become the first in the U.S. to produce electric vehicles, and only the sixth in the world to do so.

Construction is to begin next year on the 92,900-square-meter facility. Daimler also said it will build a new global logistics center and aftersales North American hub in Bibb County, Alabama, about 8 kilometers from the Tuscaloosa plant.


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As Africa Warms, Mosquito Carrying Zika, Dengue More Likely to Thrive

From deadly droughts and destroyed crops to shrinking water sources, communities across sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to withstand the onslaught of global record-breaking temperatures.

But the dangers do not end there. Rising heat poses another threat, one that is far less known and studied but could spark disease epidemics across the continent, scientists say.

Mosquitoes are the menace, and the risk goes beyond malaria.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads debilitating and potentially deadly viruses, from Zika and dengue to chikungunya, thrives in warmer climates than its malaria-carrying cousin, known as Anopheles, say researchers at Stanford University.

In sub-Saharan Africa, this means malaria rates could rise in cooler areas as they heat up, but fall in hotter places that now battle the disease. In those areas, malaria, one of the continent’s biggest killers, may be rivaled by other vector-borne diseases as major health crises.

“As temperatures go past 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), you move away from the peak transmission window for malaria, and towards that of diseases such as dengue,” said Erin Mordecai, an assistant professor at Stanford.

“We have this intriguing prospect of the threat of malaria declining in Africa, while Zika, dengue and chikungunya become more of a danger,” she said. 

Besides a warming planet, scientists fear growing urbanization across Africa could also fuel the transmission of diseases carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which flourishes in cities and slums, the opposite of the country-loving Anopheles.

Half of Africans are expected to live in cities by 2030, up from 36 percent in 2010, according to World Bank data.

A soaring number may become prey to vector-borne viruses like dengue, which have struck Africa at a record pace in recent years, fuelled by urbanization, population growth, poor sanitation and global warming, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

“We see poorly planned development in Africa, not just with megacities but smaller settlements … which often lack proper water and sanitation,” said Marianne Comparet, director of the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases.

“Climate change, disease and the interaction between man and habitat — it is a crisis going under the radar … a time bomb for public health problems,” she added.

Neglected diseases

Last year was the hottest on record, for the third year in a row, with global temperature rise edging nearer a ceiling set by some 200 nations for limiting global warming, according to the European Union’s climate change service.

Parts of Africa were among the regions suffering from unusual heat.

As temperatures keep rising, mosquitoes in low-latitude regions in East African countries are finding new habitats in higher altitude areas, yet malaria rates are falling in warmer regions, such as northern Senegal in the Sahel, studies show.

So as cooler parts of sub-Saharan Africa gear up for the spread of malaria, hotter areas should prepare for future epidemics like chikungunya and dengue, experts say.

While not as lethal as malaria, chikungunya lasts longer and can lead to people developing long-term joint pain. Dengue causes flulike symptoms and can develop into a deadly hemorrhagic fever.

There is a danger that the global drive to end malaria, which absorbed $2.9 billion in international investment in 2015, has left African countries ill-prepared to deal with other vector-borne diseases, said Larry Slutsker of the international health organization PATH.

“Diseases such as dengue and chikungunya have been neglected and under-funded,” said Slutsker, the leader of PATH’s malaria and neglected tropical diseases programs. “There needs to be much better surveillance and understanding.”

Malaria kills around 430,000 people a year, about 90 percent of them young African children.

Dengue, the world’s fastest-spreading tropical disease, infects about 390 million annually but is often badly recorded and misdiagnosed, health experts say.

Some experts believe the global alarm triggered by Zika, which can cause birth defects such as small brain size, may see more money pumped into fighting neglected tropical diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, especially after outbreaks in Angola, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau in the last year.

Although 26 African nations, almost half of the continent, have strategies in place to fight vector-borne diseases, most of them only target malaria, according to data from the WHO.

Malaria rates have been slashed in recent decades through the use of bed nets, indoor spraying and drugs. But there are no dedicated treatments or vaccines for chikungunya and dengue.

“The most important preventive and control intervention is vector management, particularly through community engagement,” said Magaran Bagayoko, a team leader for the WHO in Africa.

Disentangling data

However, efforts to beat back mosquitoes are hampered by a lack of quality and affordable climate data that could help predict outbreaks and indicate risks, said Madeleine Thomson of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

“What countries really want to know is what they can do to improve their programs, as well as the capacity of their health workers,” said the scientist at the Columbia University-based institute.

But to do that, “climate information must be put into practice,” Thomson added.

African nations also must improve coordination between their health ministries and meteorological agencies, said the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), a new continentwide public health agency launched this year by the African Union.

“They are not linked, or talking to each other,” said Sheila Shawa, a project officer at the Africa CDC headquarters in Ethiopia. “There needs to be better communication in order to model neglected diseases, such as chikungunya, across Africa.”

Yet climate scientists and health experts warn of the difficulty of analyzing the impact of rising temperature on mosquito-borne diseases without looking at other factors.

“We have a major challenge of isolating effects of rising temperatures — which are really variable — from all the other aspects like rainfall patterns, humidity, mobility and migration, as well as socioeconomic factors,” said Stanford’s Mordecai.

“They are all changing at the same time, making individual drivers very difficult to isolate and disentangle for analysis.”


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Next Round of NAFTA Talks Take on Thornier Issues

The United States will present new proposals and begin to weigh into thornier issues of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the third round of negotiations starting in Ottawa Saturday, U.S. chief negotiator John Melle said Thursday.

The stepped-up negotiations come with four more rounds of talks left after Ottawa and a self-imposed year-end deadline to finish the talks before Mexico launches campaigning for its July presidential election.

“With progress made in several issue areas in the first two NAFTA negotiation rounds, USTR (United States Trade Representative) looks to move forward with additional new text proposals in round three of the negotiations,” Melle said in comments emailed to Reuters.

“At this point in the negotiations, more challenging issues will start taking center stage,” he added, without elaborating.

Third round

The first two rounds of talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico focused on consolidating language on chapters covering small- and medium-sized enterprises, competitiveness, digital trade, services and the environment.

Now, negotiators will begin to weigh into more contentious issues such as rules of origin — how much of a product’s components must originate from within North America — labor standards aimed at increasing Mexican wages and mechanisms for resolving trade and investment disputes.

In its negotiating strategy for revising NAFTA ahead of the start of the talks in July, the United States said it would emphasize reducing the U.S. trade deficit as a priority.

It also said it wanted to eliminate an arbitration system for resolving trade disputes, known as Chapter 19, that has largely prohibited the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases against Canadian and Mexican firms.

Canada has suggested it will walk away from the talks if Chapter 19 is tossed aside.

Dispute resolution, sunset clause

Politico reported Thursday that the United States was considering dropping a binding mechanism in NAFTA for resolving government-to-government disputes in favor of an advisory system.

The proposal would be a major shift away from a decades-old push by the United States to build an international system of enforceable trade rules, Politico reported.

Canada and Mexico have dismissed a proposal by the Trump administration to add a five-year sunset provision to NAFTA.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week such a provision was needed because forecasts for U.S. export and job growth when NAFTA took effect in 1994 were “wildly optimistic” and failed to live up to expectations.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told Reuters Sept. 15 that the sunset clause was unnecessary because the pact’s members can trigger a renegotiation or leave it at any time.

Since U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked NAFTA and threatened to tear up the agreement, Mexico has pushed to secure more access to the European Union, Brazil, Israel, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

Polls show support for NAFTA

A Reuters poll of economists Thursday found that Mexico and Canada will survive current talks with the United States on trade relatively unscathed.

Meanwhile, a separate poll by IPSOS published Thursday showed broad-based support among Americans, Canadians and Mexicans for NAFTA.


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Rohingya Crisis Dents Myanmar Hopes of Western Investment Boom

When officials from Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon toured six European countries in June, they were hoping to drum up investment in transport, energy and education.

Instead, they were bombarded with questions about the country’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority, who have long complained of persecution by the Buddhist majority in the oil-rich, ethnically divided, western state of Rakhine.

“In each of every country, that issue was always brought up,” Hlaing Maw Oo, secretary of Yangon City Development Committee, told Reuters after the 16-day trip.

The situation in Rakhine has worsened dramatically since then, with more than 400,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh to escape a military counterinsurgency offensive the United Nations has described as “ethnic cleansing.”

Western trade and investment in Myanmar is small, but there were hopes that a series of reforms this year would pry open an economy stunted by international sanctions and decades of mismanagement under military rule.

With most sanctions now lifted, an expected flood of Western money was seen as a key dividend from the transition to civilian rule under Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Regional diplomats saw it balancing China’s growing influence over its neighbor.

But Aung San Suu Kyi has been beset by international criticism for saying little about human rights abuses against the Rohingya, and lawyers, consultants and lobbyists say the European and U.S. companies that had been circling are now wary of the reputational risks of investing in the country.

Louis Yeung, managing principal of Yangon-based investment firm Faircap Partners, said one of his business partners — a listed, U.S.-based food and beverage company — decided to hold off its plan to enter the Myanmar market for three to five years, citing factors including slower-than-expected reforms and the Rohingya crisis.

“Their conclusion is that it wasn’t the right time for them,” he said. “They want to see more traction from the government and Rakhine is not helpful.”

On hold

The pressure has been growing in recent months, even on existing investors, with rights group AFD International calling on foreign firms to stop investing in Myanmar.

A small group of investors in U.S. oil major Chevron filed an unsuccessful motion at its annual general meeting urging it to pull out of its production-sharing contract with a state-run firm to explore for oil and gas, while Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor, which runs a mobile network in Myanmar, issued a statement calling for human rights protection.

Chevron declined to comment on its investment in Myanmar, while Telenor did not respond to several requests for comment.

Bernd Lange, chair of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade, said last week his delegation postponed a visit to Myanmar indefinitely, saying the human rights situation “does not allow a fruitful discussion on a potential EU-Myanmar investment agreement.”

Khin Aung Tun, vice chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, told Reuters that global firms planning to hold conferences in Myanmar were now considering other locations.

“People were just starting to see Myanmar as a ‘good news’ story,” said Dane Chamorro, head of South East Asia at Control Risks, a global risk consultancy.

“Now you can imagine a boardroom in which someone mentions Myanmar and someone else says ‘hold on, I’ve just seen something on Myanmar on TV: villages burned down, refugees, etc.'”

In an interview published in Nikkei Asia Review on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged it was “natural” for foreign investors to be concerned, but repeated her view that economic development was the key to solving poor Rakhine’s long-standing problems.

“So, investments would actually help make the situation better,” she said.

In China’s orbit

Myanmar’s $70 billion economy should be a strong investment proposition for Western firms. It boasts large oil and gas reserves and natural resources such as rubies, jade and timber.

Wages are low and its youthful population of more than 50 million is eager for retail and manufacturing jobs.

In April, Myanmar passed a long-awaited investment law, simplifying procedures and granting foreign investors equal treatment to the locals. A game-changing law allowing foreigners to buy stakes in local firms is expected later this year.

“The investment conditions were improving,” said Dustin Daugherty, ASEAN lead for business intelligence at Dezan Shira & Associates, a consultancy for foreign investors in Asia.

Myanmar’s economy may not suffer much, however, if Western firms shun the country — or even if their governments were to reimpose some sanctions, although that appears unlikely for now.

Aung San Suu Kyi has sought to deepen relations with China at a time when Beijing is keen to push projects that fit with its Belt and Road initiative, which aims to stimulate trade by investment in infrastructure throughout Asia and beyond.

Myanmar trades with China as much as it does with its next four biggest partners: Singapore, Thailand, Japan and India.

None of that top five participated in previous sanctions.

Trade with the United States is only about $400 million and U.S. investment is just 0.5 percent of the total. Europe accounts for around a 10th of investment, while China and Hong Kong make up more than a third, and Singapore and Thailand another third.

Than Aung Kyaw, Deputy Director General of Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, told Reuters that European investors might have “second thoughts,” but he expected Asian investors to stay put.

China is already in talks to sell electricity to energy-hungry Myanmar and pushing for preferential access to a strategic port on the Bay of Bengal. In April, the two countries reached an agreement on an oil pipeline that pumps oil across Myanmar to southwest China.

“It is going to feed Aung San Suu Kyi straight into the hands of [Chinese President] Xi Jinping,” said John Blaxland, director at the ANU Southeast Asia Institute and head of the Strategic and Defense Studies Center.


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Лідер «Океану Ельзи» Вакарчук прочитає лекції у Стенфорді

Святослав Вакарчук, співак української групи «Океан Ельзи» проведе семестр у Стенфордський університеті у США. Він читатиме лекції і братиме участь у низці заходів Центру демократії, розвитку і верховенства закону.

«Стенфордський центр з питань демократії, розвитку та утвердження верховенства права (CDDRL) із вітає Святослава Вакарчука як запрошеного наукового співробітника з осіннього семестру», – мовиться у повідомленні центру, опублікованому 21 вересня.

Крім музики, зазначають у центрі, Вакарчук займається і громадськими справами. Він засновник благодійного фонду «Люди майбутнього» і співзасновник Центру економічної стратегії. Співак також має науковий ступінь у теоретичній фізиці.


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