A number of EU tariffs designed to block dumping of cheap, inferior goods from countries such as China will be maintained in the UK post-Brexit, the government announced this week.
Cheap Chinese tyres, steel and ceramics are among the goods that will continue to be penalised to promote a level playing field for British businesses, whether or not the UK leaves the EU without a deal, trade secretary Liam Fox said on Monday (February 25).
But Unite and others have argued that the government is far from ready to police such tariffs, especially in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Of the so-called trade remedies put in place by the EU to prevent foreign dumping, the government said the UK will maintain 43 but will scrap 66 remedies after Brexit, including tariffs on Thai sweetcorn, mandarins from China and solar glass from China for solar panels.
“The decision on whether to maintain measures was based on whether those measures mattered to the UK. We are scrapping measures that don’t significantly benefit British businesses and this will see savings for people throughout the country,” Fox said in a statement.
Trade body UK Steel cautiously welcomed maintaining tariffs on steel, whose protection has helped the UK steel industry recover after teetering on the brink of collapse four years ago, when Chinese dumping had become a serious problem.
UK Steel director general Gareth Stace said that the trade remedies “are essential to the future competitiveness of steel production in the UK, ensuring we do not become the dumping ground of Europe in the event of an abrupt departure from the bloc at the end of March”.
But he warned that continuing Brexit uncertainty and the prospect of crashing out of the EU without a deal would still expose industry to being flooded by cheap steel.
Stace explained that the UK Trade Remedies Authority does not even yet legally exist and is far from ready to successfully implement trade remedies.
“Even a highly experienced authority would struggle with the sheer volume and complexity of reviewing all the transitioned measures, implementation of the UK’s new steel safeguards as well as taking on a brand new investigation into dumping and subsidies,” he pointed out.
“UK steel producers are at risk of exposure to unfair trading practises whilst the fledgling Trade Remedies Authority wrestles with this mammoth task and plays catch-up with its EU counterpart.
“This is yet another example exposing the sheer folly of a no-deal Brexit,” Stace added. “A withdrawal agreement accompanied by a suitably long transition period would provide the Trade Remedies Authority with almost two years to ready itself properly for its new role. It is the only sensible option.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner agreed.
“The adoption of European Union tariffs designed to protect UK industry against the dumping of cheap inferior products such as steel and tyres from overseas will be meaningless in the event of a catastrophic no deal Brexit,” he said.
“It is unlikely that in the short time left before Brexit day that the trade remedies authority will be fully operational and in a position to police rogue importers who ignore tariffs. Theresa May needs to take a no deal cliff edge Brexit off the table to protect UK jobs and manufacturing communities.”
The announcement over tariffs comes as it was revealed last month that the government is failing to support the UK steel industry through public procurement.
Less than half of the steel the UK government bought for projects in the last year was procured from the UK according to a report the government itself published.
About 42 per cent, worth nearly £70m, of steel used in government projects was purchased from outside the UK in 2017/2018, while 43 per cent was sourced from UK firms. The remaining 14 per cent could not be traced.
Unite national officer for steel Tony Brady called the figures “deeply depressing” and said they “demonstrate once again that the government is failing to support British steel workers”.