Britain on Friday faced accusations of blocking EU plans to impose a higher import tariff on dumped cold rolled steel from China, as business secretary Sajid Javid visited Port Talbot in Wales – a Tata Steel site – to reassure workers facing jobs losses.
Thousands of jobs are likely to go at Port Talbot and other sites following Tata Steel’s decision to sell its UK assets, and comes in the context of several British companies restructuring or closing sites in recent months.
Given the context of its increasingly closer ties with China in recent years, Britain was called the “ringleader” in blocking attempts to regulate cheap Chinese steel entering Europe, whose steel industry has been in crisis because of overproduction and China’s steel exports.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who was in Mumbai this week for talks with Tata Steel over its plans to sell plants in Britain, accused the David Cameron government of being “in hock to China”. He claimed the company’s senior officials were frustrated over lack of British government action to support the industry.
European Steel Association (Eurofer) spokesman Charles de Lusignan said the organisation had argued for lifting the lesser duty rule, which prevents increased tariffs being placed on cheap imports to the EU from China.
“The fact is that the UK has been blocking this. They are not the only member state, but they are certainly the ringleader in blocking the lifting of the lesser duty rule,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
“The ability to lift this was part of a proposal that the European Commission launched in 2013, and the fact that the UK continues to block it means that when the government says it’s doing everything it can to save the steel industry in the UK and also in Europe, it’s not. It’s not true.”
The EU levies a tariff of up to 16% on dumped Chinese cold rolled steel, while the US recently fixed duties at 266%.
Business secretary Javid, who returned from a visit to Australia to deal with the crisis prompted by Tata Steel’s decision, said: “I’m going to Port Talbot to meet staff and management, who are understandably extremely anxious about their future.
“I will listen to them, and I want to reassure them myself that the government is on their side in working hard to achieve a long term solution for them, for the region and for the wider UK steel industry.”
He added: “Whilst we can’t change the status of the global steel market, we can and are playing a positive role in securing a sustainable future.”