In the international solar-panel trade war, the Obama administration just won't quit

Sadly — mind-blowingly, even — this is real life. Stay with me here.

Last week, the Obama administration announced their plan to revive their latent efforts in taking India to task over their subsidized domestic solar industry. Via Reuters:

The United States on Monday said it would take India to the World Trade Organization to gain a bigger foothold for U.S. manufacturers in its fast-growing solar products market, adding another irritant to an already strained relationship.

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

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said making Indian solar developers use locally made equipment discriminated against U.S. 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.

In other words, the Obama administration really wants India to open up their solar-panel market to more imports (in meeting their new renewables targets, India requires that 50 percent of the requisite solar panels are manufactured domestically) — specifically, to open up their market to more imports from the United States. After all, free trade is absolutely not a zero-sum game, and opening up markets to the widest array of competition possible is a mutually beneficial practice that enriches everyone involved. Buying cheaper solar panels from the U.S. would help you keep your costs down, so what’s your deal, India?

Huh. Funny they should mention that.

The Obama administration is simultaneously threatening to slap further import duties on solar products from China, as well as other goods, if China doesn’t stop trying to pull a run-around on the duties the Obama administration previously imposed by manufacturing solar panels with cells made in Taiwan. The United States is upset, and I quote, that China’s solar panels are still “too cheap.” …But didn’t you just say…? Via Reuters:

China urged the United States on Monday to “objectively and fairly” handle an ongoing trade dispute between the two countries after Washington signaled last week it could extend import duties on Chinese solar panels to a wider range of products.

The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled on Friday that Chinese solar panels made with cells manufactured in Taiwan may harm the American solar industry, bringing it closer to adding to the duties it slapped on products from China in 2012.

The U.S. arm of German solar manufacturer SolarWorld AG had complained that Chinese manufacturers are sidestepping the duties by shifting production of the cells used to make their panels to Taiwan and continuing to flood the U.S. market with cheap products. …

China has retaliated by introducing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on imports of U.S. polysilicon, the key raw material in solar cells.

But, but, but — the Obama administration will sputter in lame defense — China so heavily subsidizes their domestic solar industry, the United States obviously needs to impose more tariffs in order to compensate for that heavy subsidization. …I.e., protectionism. I.e., the exact same thing of which the Obama administration is accusing India in trying to get them to buy our own heavily subsidized solar panels. American solar installation companies are actually upset with the administration’s move to slap new duties on Taiwanese-manufactured components, because they rely on cheap Asian manufacturers to help keep the price of solar arrays low — which is the precise argument the United States is using to try to convince India to import more.

Can the Obama administration hear itself?