SEATTLE (AP) — Workers at a $1.7 billion polysilicon plant in central Washington believe President Donald Trump’s trade war with China may be their best chance for staying employed.
Unable to compete with Chinese factories aided by government subsidies and high tariffs, REC Silicon is shutting down the facility, which makes products used in solar panels. The company, which once numbered 500 workers, is keeping its remaining 200 on the payroll for six weeks in hopes that pressure from Trump will force China to make a trade deal. But the prospects are uncertain.
For other industries, the administration’s policies have been tough medicine, showing the complicated effects of tariffs in one of the nation’s most trade-dependent states.
Washington’s overseas shipments of apples, dairy, seafood, wheat and soy have plummeted. China has hinted it might order fewer Boeing planes, which make up a huge part of the state’s exports. A popular fishing boat company has seen orders canceled, a cooperative of Northwest dairy farmers has had to find alternative foreign markets, and a Seattle-based electric bike company, Rad Power Bikes, has curbed expansion plans.
“Certainly there are a couple companies that say, ‘Gee, I like that protection,’” said Robert Hamilton, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s trade adviser. “But for many others it’s not been good. They have to increase cost to their customers or absorb the costs of the tariffs. Many have investment plans, and now all of a sudden their exports are down and the cash flow they were going to use to finance their investment is shaky.”
Washington exported more than $70 billion in goods last year, which accounted for 5% of American goods exported overall and 14% of U.S. goods exported to China. An analysis by Hamilton estimated that the administration’s tariffs, and retaliatory tariffs imposed by countries including China, Mexico and Canada, had already displaced 1,500 jobs in Washington.
According to the Washington Council on International Trade, 40% of jobs are linked to international trade.
Among them are those at REC Silicon, a Norway-based company that for years has been one of the top-paying employers in Moses Lake, a farming city in central Washington. Earlier this decade, the company, which prides itself on producing solar-grade polysilicon more efficiently than competitors, did about $600 million in annual sales to China.
But in 2014, after the U.S. imposed tariffs on Chinese solar panels, China retaliated with extremely high tariffs on U.S. polysilicon. REC was essentially blocked from the Chinese market, said Francine Sullivan, REC’s vice president of business development.