* Sixty-day WTO consultation period ends on Sunday
* Groups fear case will thwart Indian solar sector
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, April 4 (Reuters) - U.S. environmental groups
are pressing President Barack Obama's administration to back off
a World Trade Organization case against India they say threatens
the ability of the world's second most populous country to cut
greenhouse gas emissions.
"We're really worried about this proliferation of trade
cases on renewable energy," Ilana Solomon, trade representative
for the Sierra Club, said in an interview on Thursday.
"With the climate crisis upon us, governments should have
every tool at their disposal to incentivize renewable energy"
and cut use of fossil fuels, Solomon said.
The U.S. Trade Representative's office in early February
asked India for WTO consultations on its national solar program,
the Jawaharal Nehru National Solar Mission.
That program, launched in 2010, appears to discriminate
against U.S. solar equipment by requiring solar energy producers
to use Indian-manufactured solar cells and modules and by
offering subsidies to those developers for using domestic
equipment instead of imports, the USTR said.
That violates a core WTO principle that requires countries
to treat foreign goods and services the same way they treat
domestic goods and services, U.S. trade officials have said.
With the formal 60-day consultation period ending on Sunday
and no sign of a deal, USTR could soon ask for a WTO dispute
settlement panel to hear its complaint.
Andrea Mead, a spokeswoman for the USTR, declined to comment
on the trade office's next step, but said there were better ways
for India to support its solar energy sector.
"Countries have a wide range of policy tools available to
promote increased reliance on clean energy that are far more
effective than local content rules, and that do not unfairly
discriminate against U.S. workers and businesses," she said.
The Sierra Club, Greenpeace USA and ten other environmental
groups sent a letter in March to acting U.S. Trade
Representative Demetrios Marantis expressing "deep concern"
about the case.
"We urge the United States to agree to a solution that
allows India to support and build its domestic solar industry,
just as we do at home," the groups said.
India has argued that its solar policy measures are legal
under WTO government procurement rules that permit countries to
exempt projects from non-discrimination obligations.
But cases challenging local content rules have received a
boost since the WTO ruled against Canada's requirements for a
green energy plan in Ontario province. Canada has appealed that
case, brought by Japan and the EU.
"There's a problem with the existing WTO rules from our
perspective," Solomon said.
"It is very difficult to design a program with domestic
content rules at this point, despite the fact that domestic
content rules have been used by industrial countries throughout
history to develop new emerging industries," she said.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Todd Eastham)