This week has seen major efforts in the fight to protect the British steel industry. High level talks have been held between ministers and the European Commission while thousands turned out on the streets of Brussels to protest for better protection. Unite, Community and the GMB were all out to support their steelworkers alongside Labour MEPs.
The European steel industry has lost more than a fifth of its workforce since 2008 and a huge reduction in the value of steel in the international market has occurred due to China dumping cheap steel in the European market. More jobs are expected to be lost, devastating communities around Europe and here in the UK. Just last month Tata Steel announced a further 1,000 jobs are to be cut in the UK.
One of the major issues of contention at the protest was the granting of Market Economy status to China, which would allow it to evade anti-dumping duties from the European Union. China is expected to be granted status in December 2016 under an agreement from 2001 when they joined the World Trade Organization.
Ahead of the conference, the Business and Economy Ministers of the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Poland, Belgium and Luxembourg wrote a joint letter to the EU Commissioners calling for them to use “every means available to take strong actions” in response to “the chronic use of unfair trade practices in the context of strong international competition”.
The letter has called for the full deployment of existing Trade Defence Instruments (TDI) including the use of anti-subsidy and anti-dumping measures, and the use of the Commission’s power to open investigations ex-officio (i.e. without a request from the industry). One of the more significant calls is for the modernisation of TDI, with the objective of achieving reform in expediting procedures, increasing transparency, effectiveness and enforcement.
This all sounds like good news so far, however the letter fails to mention the possibility of granting trade unions the power to request an investigation, as is allowed in the United States. It also does not mention the possibility of adding a further exemption to the lesser duty rules to cover cases of social and environmental dumping.
This is because the Tory Government has been successfully leading a blocking minority in the Council over the issue of a ‘lesser duty’ rule. As a result, the reform of TDI initiated by the Commission in 2013 and endorsed by the Parliament in 2014 has been blocked for nearly 18 months.
It is hugely hypocritical of the UK government to write to the EU and demand they do more to protect British Steel while they are blocking the ability of the EU to place higher tariffs on steel imports and thereby save the European steel industry. They must stop blocking these tariffs and throw their support behind a modernisation of TDI.