Government U-turn on steel welcomed

Eleventh-hour U-turn on UK steel trade protections buys 'breathing space' for industry - but long-term solutions needed

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The steel industry and unions have welcomed an eleventh-hour U-turn from the government on trade protections for UK steel.

But Unite said that with the extension of tariffs on certain steel products lasting only one year, the threat the UK steel industry faces from a flood of cheap imports is not yet over.

Earlier this week, Unite warned that the government had only two days to intervene after it was revealed trade secretary Liz Truss was planning to walk away from trade protections designed to stop cheap imports decimating the UK’s steelmaking industry, which were due to expire on Wednesday (June 30).

After Brexit, the UK had inherited the trade protections from the EU, introduced in 2019, on 19 different steel products. These protections put limits on steel that can be brought in without import taxes into the UK from other countries such as China.

The UK’s post-Brexit trade advisory body, the Trade Remedies Authority (TRA) had recommended that the UK maintain protections on only 10 of the 19 steel products that the EU has committed to protecting for another three years. The TRA said the protections should be allowed to expire for 9 of those products on June 30.

But hours before the cut-off date, Truss announced emergency legislation to override the TRA’s recommendations.

Now, trade protections on 15 of the 19 products will be maintained, although for five of those products the protections will expire after one year. For the remaining 10 products, the trade protections will stay in place for three years as is the case in the EU.

It was understood that Truss had initially rejected proposals put forward by the UK Steel trade body that would allow the safeguarding legislation to be kept in place after 30 June, despite business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng supporting them.

After pressure from Unite and the steel industry itself, Kwarteng’s intervention forced a last-minute government U-turn.

While Unite welcomed the move, Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner said the industry and its workers were not out of the woods yet.

“Kwasi Kwarteng’s intervention buys our steel industry some breathing space, and we’re relieved he has listened to unions and the employers,” he said.

“However, the can has just been kicked down the road. In another year’s time, the threat of cheap imports destroying UK jobs will be back again,” Turner added.

“UK steel can’t keep limping from crisis to crisis like this. We urgently need a plan and government support to bring some stability and security to this strategically vital sector.”

By Hajera Blagg

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