The Mirror has been campaigning to Save Our Steel since 2015
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Britain's steel industry suffered a fresh “hammer blow” today after a trade body recommended axing measures to guard against cheap foreign imports.
Insiders warned the move jeopardised the future of UK mills in a sector which employs 32,000 workers.
Following a review, the Trade Remedies Authority advised ministers to scrap safeguards on nine out of 19 product categories – even though the US and EU are maintaining their protections.
The “shocking decision” sparked outrage among sector bosses.
UK Steel director-general Gareth Stace said: “The TRA’s recommendation to cut in half the UK’s steel safeguard measures is a hammer blow to the UK steel sector and to the many thousands it employs.”
The Mirror revealed last month how a 107-page report to ministers recommended axing curbs on half of all imported steel products at the end of June.
The industry employs 32,000 staff in Britain
Protections were introduced by Brussels in 2018 when the UK was part of EU trade rules, in retaliation for Donald Trump's White House slapping tariffs on steel imports.
The EU measures carried on in Britain until January when the Brexit transition ended.
The British regime set tariff-free quotas for a range of steel products based on 2015-2017 levels of imports.
Only once they have been filled are tariffs applied to any extra imports over a three-month period.
Experts fear the industry's survival
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)
Measures were extended until this month but the UK Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate recommended they were relaxed.
The TRA today revealed it too wanted them axed.
Industry chiefs fear it could plunge the sector into a new crisis – and hamper attempts to become environmentally-friendly.
Mr Stace added: “The recommendation to remove huge elements of the protection steel manufacturers require against import surges is utter madness.
UK Steel director-general Gareth Stace
“On their first major test in a post-Brexit trading environment, the UK’s new system has failed our domestic steel sector.
“In a global market characterised by trade barriers, the UK unilaterally is cutting its safeguarding measures in half whilst the EU and US keep theirs in place.
“We will become a magnet for huge volumes of steel imports diverted from these markets, threatening the long-term viability of steel in the UK and calling into question the sector’s ability to make the major investments required for decarbonisation.”
Community steelworkers' union operations director Alasdair McDiarmid blasted a “shocking decision from the TRA which threatens thousands of jobs and the very future of our steel industry”.
Community union operations director Alasdair McDiarmid
(Image: Community union)
He added: “The steel safeguards protect us from being flooded by cheap foreign imports and it would be an unforgivable act of self-harm to give up our protections when the EU and the US are maintaining their own defences.
“It seems the TRA has failed to understand what this decision means for our industry and our worst fears have been confirmed; our post-Brexit trade defence system is weak, ineffective and not fit for purpose.
“This Government has had plenty of warm words for steelworkers but we need action now.
“Failure would make a mockery of Tory promises to support British industry, British workers and industrial communities.”
Shadow Trade Minister Bill Esterson said: “This is a deeply disappointing – if sadly unsurprising – recommendation from an organisation that is fundamentally flawed in its composition and its remit and has simply not given sufficient weight to the implications of this verdict for steelworkers, their families, and the communities that rely on that industry.”
Trade Remedies Authority chief executive Oliver Griffiths said the body “has been set up by statute to provide impartial, data-driven economic assessments like this recommendation on steel safeguards”. He claimed it had “listened carefully to all interested parties throughout the review”.
A Government spokeswoman said: “All interested parties, including importers, domestic producers and overseas exporters, have been able to participate in the review to provide evidence to factor into the Trade Remedies Authority’s assessment.
“The TRA is a non-departmental public body, and all its decisions are based on a thorough analysis of the evidence.
“The Trade Secretary's decision on the recommendation will be published before the measure is due to expire on June 30, 2021."
The Mirror has been campaigning to Save Our Steel since the industry was clobbered by plant closures and thousands of redundancies in 2015