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Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 09 agosto 2013 alle ore 13:16.

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But proponents have focused too much on government subsidies and too little on the contribution of international trade, which in recent years has had a highly positive effect on the development of solar power, as the bonanza of Chinese panels held down costs. The current embrace of protectionism threatens to reverse this progress. With the loss of cheap solar panels from China, and with subsidies that helped to drive the European industry now reduced for fiscal reasons, the share of solar power in Europe will fall far short of environmentalists’ goals.

But findings of dumping into foreign markets surely warrant some response, no? Actually, no.

For starters, even those who are generally sympathetic to trade and markets often have the impression that anti-dumping laws target predatory pricing, a practice in which a large producer sells below cost in order to drive its competitors into bankruptcy, at which point it can raise the price and reap monopoly profits.

But that is not even the way anti-dumping laws are usually written, let alone applied. Simply put, anti-dumping measures, such as the US and EU tariffs against Chinese solar panels, are a means of reducing, not fostering, competition. So, if predatory pricing is not the producers’ motive for selling below cost in these cases, what is?

The solar-panel industry worldwide – in China, Europe, and the US – is experiencing a glut of productive capacity. As a result, global supply and demand are balanced at a market price that is below the long-term average cost per unit, which includes a share of the cost already incurred in building the factories. But that market price is not below the short-term cost of keeping the factories running once they are built.

In other words, producers sell at prices that are below cost, because, having already built the factories, they would lose even more money if they charged above the competitive market price or shut down production altogether. When the US or EU finds that China is dumping solar panels, or when China finds that the US is dumping polysilicon, they are using average cost rather than marginal cost. By this criterion, dumping occurs every time a store has a clearance sale.

Some have compared the negotiated agreements to limit China’s solar-panel exports to past voluntary export restraints (VERs) or orderly marketing arrangements in the steel and consumer-electronic industries, especially those that Japan agreed to apply to its exports to the US in the 1980’s. But a more revealing precedent is Japan’s VERs on exports of autos during this period. American automakers had found it increasingly difficult to compete against smaller, more fuel-efficient Japanese imports. When free trade was eventually restored, American wallets and air quality benefited (and the US auto industry was forced to become more efficient).

Free trade in automobiles was good for the environment 30 years ago. The same is true of trade in solar equipment today. Westerners should thank Chinese panel producers for their contribution to keeping solar power viable, not penalize them through protectionist anti-dumping measures.

Jeffrey Frankel is Professor of Capital Formation and Growth at Harvard University.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.

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