UK steel sector flags Bill ‘lowering’ trade defences

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 08, 2018

Industry fears that the proposed legislation ‘may not defend UK steel companies adequately and will water down anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures’

Britain’s steel industry and steel unions have expressed their concerns about the legislation currently passing through Parliament, which they fear may not provide the industry with the much-needed anti-dumping protections, watering down existing provisions that protect the industry via Europe.

Such protections, which have been available to the industry at a European level, have been regarded as crucial to ensuring the industry’s stability.

Their concerns centre on the taxation (Cross-Border Taxation), currently going through the House of Commons. The Bill is one of the many pieces of Brexit-related legislation and is focussed on enabling Britain’s trade with the rest of the world (alongside a separate Trade Bill) to continue seamlessly after Britain leaves the union, with provisions relating to Britain’s customs and excise regime, as well as anti-dumping measures to protect the industry.

Dumping has been a particular issue for the steel industry: trade body UK Steel estimates that over a third of the EU’s 92 trade remedies relate to the steel sector.

“Many of the current measures against China, in particular, were vitally important in stemming the flow of under-priced imports that have played such a devastating role in the steel crisis of 2015-16,” said UK Steel, which represents the industry, including Tata Steel’s UK operations, in a note published earlier this month.

However, industry has serious concerns that the legislation in its current form “may not defend the UK steel companies adequately and will water down anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures.”

Level-playing field

“A significant cause of the recent steel crisis was the illegal dumping of steel by Chinese, state-supported, producers onto the UK market. To ensure that this does not happen again, as we leave the EU, the UK needs an effective trade remedies regime, that enables free trade to take place, in what is a global market. Unfortunately, in its current form, the ‘Customs Bill’ will fail to achieve this goal. All we want is a level playing field,” said Gareth Stace, Director of UK Steel, ahead of the second reading of the Bill on Monday.

Their concerns are shared by workers: this week the committee of the union Community wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressing their concerns that the legislation as it stood threatened their “livelihoods” and there was a danger of Britain being seen as a “soft touch” when it came to dumping.

“The UK needs a fully-formed fast-acting and tough trade defence system ready for when we leave the EU and the customs union. But the government’s track record on backing robust trade defence and the direction of travel set out in the Customs Bill gives us serious cause for concern,” warned Community’s steel sector committee.

“We’ve never asked for protectionism or government handouts, all we ask for is the opportunity to compete in this global marketplace on a level playing field. We must give ourselves every available tool to protect ourselves from unfair trade, or else we will have no industry left.”

In its white paper on trade published last year, the British government pledges its commitment to “robust protections” for industry, while taking appropriate account of impacts on users and consumers and the wider trade agenda.

Published on January 08, 2018

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