International trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the UK House of Commons June 29 that the UK government had made a “final” decision to extend the nation’s steel import safeguards for a further two years “in the national interest,” despite this possibly breaching World Trade Organization rules.
“These are unusual times,” Trevelyan told parliamentarians from various political parties, who were generally supportive of protecting UK producers as they invest in decarbonization. She cited “persistent global overcapacity” and “a threat of serious injury” to UK producers should the safeguards not be prolonged.
Safeguards using quotas and tariffs will therefore be extended on imports of products from 15 categories from July 1 until June 30, 2024, after which time they can no longer be extended, the trade secretary said. The extension on five of these product categories is controversial, as the government had originally said it would phase out these controls June 30: the further extension is moreover seen to target products coming from certain developing nations and particularly China.
“The government wishes to make it clear to Parliament that the decision to extend the safeguard on the five product categories departs from our international legal obligations under the relevant WTO agreement, as relates to the five product categories,” Trevelyan told the House of Commons. “However, from time to time, issues may arise where the national interest requires action to be taken which may be in tension with normal rules or procedures.”
International consultations are “ongoing”
The UK trade department clarified in an email that “the final decision on the steel safeguard has been made. International consultations are ongoing. The most up-to-date data has been used in determining the tariff rate quotas, including on the developing country exemptions.”
Trevelyan noted that she has been and continues to be in consultations with the WTO on the matter and that she “stand(s) ready to take up any concerns.”
The WTO declined to comment when S&P Global Commodity Insights contacted it June 29.
The five product categories that will be granted a further extension are category 6, tin mill products; 7, non-alloy and other alloy quarto plates; 12, merchant bars and light sections; 16, non-alloy and other alloy wire rods; and 17, angles, shapes, and sections of iron or non-alloy steel.
Following consultation with downstream users who have raised concerns about product sourcing, Trevelyan, however, said she had enlarged the tariff rate quota on category 12a.
The 10 categories on which the safeguards extension had already been expected are 1, non-alloy and other alloy hot-rolled sheet and strip; 2,non-alloy and other alloy cold-rolled sheet; 4, metallic coated sheet; 5, organic coated sheet; 13, rebar; 19, railway material; 20, gas pipe; 21, hollow section; 25, large welded tube; and 26, other welded tube.
Trevelyan also said the government has decided to suspend the safeguard measure for steel goods coming from Ukraine for the next two years. This follows an earlier removal of all tariffs under a UK-Ukraine trade accord to support Ukraine’s economy in the wake of Russia’s invasion of that country.
Steelmakers’ association UK Steel welcomed the trade secretary’s statement, saying it will give UK steelmakers “the stability required to plan, invest and work with the government on the major challenges we now face—not least the decarbonization of the industry.”
The association recently estimated that weakening the controls could bring damages of GBP150 million ($184 million) to the UK steel industry amid continuing global market distortions.
“The decision to maintain the UK’s steel safeguard in full once again shows that the government is backing Britain’s steel industry,” commented UK director general Gareth Stace.
Platts assessed steel hot-rolled coil in Northern Europe at Eur840/mt ex-works Ruhr, unchanged day on day, according to data from S&P Global.
European producers tried to avoid domestic HRC price cuts June 29 despite weak demand from both end consumers and distributors, sources said.
New steel trade deal with the US
The UK steel safeguards system had been under review since late 2021. It mirrors the EU safeguards system, put in place in mid-2018 in response to the US’s imposition of Section 232 import tariffs of 25% on steel imports in March 2018. The EU recently renewed its steel safeguards until mid-2024.
Trevelyan, however, also noted that the UK government has recently secured “an expansive removal of Section 232 tariffs on imports of UK steel and [aluminum] products into the USA, which came into effect earlier this month. The tariff-free volumes we have secured mean that UK steel and [aluminum] exports to the US can return to levels not seen since before 2018.”
UK industry is partly dependent on imported steel, as it produces only around 70% of its annual requirement of around 10.2 million mt crude steel, according to UK Steel.
— Diana Kinch