The U.S. Trade Representative is launching a investigation of whether China engaged in unfair practices regarding solar and wind power and other "green" technologies.

Ron Kirk

The action, announced by USTR Ron Kirk on Oct. 15, comes in response to a petition filed by the United Steelworkers (USW) union on Sept. 9. The USW contends that China has carried out a range of actions that run counter to World Trade Organization policies.

The U.S. is taking the action under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act.

Kirk said that green technologies are "a vitally important sector for the United States." He added, "Green technology will be an engine for the jobs of the future, and this administration is committed to ensuring a level playing field for American workers, businesses and green technology entrepreneurs."

The union alleged that China engaged in a variety of unfair policies, including: export assistance to domestic companies that is prohibited by an international trade agreement; discriminated against imports of foreign products and access by foreign companies to its home market; and restricted access to rare earth elements and other materials that are critical to solar panels, wind turbines and other green technologies.

The USTR's office says the investigation will look at whether Chinese government actions deny any U.S. rights under the 1994 General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade and other pacts.

In the next step, Kirk says his office will defer for 90 days requesting direct talks with China on the green technology issue so that the office can "thoroughly examine and verify" the claims contained in the USW petition.

The steelworkers' union welcomed the USTR action. Union president Leo W. Gerard said, "The Administration's decision today starts an intense process designed to resolve our concerns about China's vast array of policies and practices that they have assembled to dominate the alternative and renewable energy sector."

Gerard added, "Enough is enough:�China needs to start playing by the rules they agreed to when they joined the WTO (World Trade Organization)."