The prospect of a potential global trade war came to the fore this week when US president Donald Trump confirmed the US would impose substantial steel and aluminium tariffs on EU imports.
The tariffs – 25 per cent on steel imports and 10 per cent on aluminium — were levied on the EU, Mexico, and Canada from today (May 31) despite the US allies hoping to receive permanent exemptions after securing a temporary exemption in March.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker called the move by the Trump administration “protectionism pure and simple”, while the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the decision would “damage prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic”.
The EU has now triggered a dispute case settlement at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and will also impose retaliatory tariffs on US goods of its own, such as on orange juice, peanut butter, Harley Davidson motor bikes and jeans, among other products.
Unite rep and Port Talbot steelworker Mark ‘Pasty’ Turner told ITV that he and his colleagues feel deep frustration over the latest news – especially in light of the concerted, and largely successful, Save Our Steel campaign in 2015.
“Everybody just feels everything is against us,” he said. “We’ve got Brexit and nobody knows what that’s going to do. Now with the tariffs being on us, we’re not 100% certain what that does mean for us.”
“Our biggest concern is dumping,” Turner added. “The American markets are going to be closed to everybody, there’s going to be steel that’s going to be floating around and our markets in the UK are going to be at the heart of that dumping.”
Unite national officer for steel Tony Brady branded the US steel tariffs as “a blunt short sighted instrument that will do nothing to address the underlying problem of global over capacity and the secondary dumping of steel from countries, such as China and Indonesia.
“Those countries that have been dumping steel and aluminium are the villains, not countries, such as the UK or Canada which play by the rules,” he said.
“The fact the UK government has failed to secure any prospect of an exemption for UK steel from the US administration should be an eye opener for those who pin their hopes on the ‘special relationship’ delivering a boost for British industry in a post-Brexit world.”
“This abject failure shows why we need to remain in a customs union,” Brady added. “The European Union remains the only trading bloc with the power to secure a negotiated full and ongoing exemption and is the only one not to have capitulated to the Trump administration.
He criticised the coming ‘tit for tat’ trade war as being “in no one’s interest.”
“Steel tariffs will only serve to harm manufacturing and steel making communities either side of the Atlantic and could escalate into other sectors such as automotive where the Trump administration has launched an investigation into car, truck and component imports.
“While politically motivated, a US-inspired tariff war in the automotive sector would disrupt the US-UK trading relationship and jeopardise decent well paid manufacturing jobs,” he added.
“The UK government cannot continue to be bystander as the threat of a job destroying trade war increases. Unite is in regular dialogue with our sister union United Steelworkers in the US and Canada through Workers Uniting and steel unions in Europe via industriALL.
“We recognise that the global problem needs a global solution,” Brady went on to say. “UK ministers must engage fully with the European Union and play a leading role in securing a negotiated solution to the global overcapacity of steel before it escalates into a wider trade war.”