UK steel trade body seeking duty-free trade to Northern Ireland

UK steel trade association ISTA urged the UK government to not impose an automatic 25% duty on steel imports into Northern Ireland from non-GB and non-EU sources, an ISTA letter to Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said.

In the letter sent Jan. 14, ISTA said they were concerned to learn that a duty would apply automatically, regardless of quota import levels.

“Such an arrangement is grossly unfair and puts suppliers at a 25% disadvantage to EU competitors. Furthermore, it runs contrary to the concept of the ‘level playing field’ laid down in the Trade Agreement,” said the ISTA letter.

“The government should put in place arrangements to waive or reimburse tariffs, or to compensate businesses affected by the tariffs to provide, as you stated, ‘an automatic guarantee that businesses will not pay those tariffs for the steel that they need.’”

Minister Gove said in UK parliament Jan. 13 that steel tariffs would provisionally apply only to steel from the rest of the world, not to steel from Britain or the EU entering Northern Ireland.

“We are looking at ways in which we can provide, through either the quotas or appropriate rebates, an automatic guarantee that businesses will not pay those tariffs for the steel that they need,” Gove said.

Trade uncertainty since Jan. 1

UK traders were not impressed by the uncertainty that has unfolded since the end of the transition period between the EU and UK on Jan. 1 this year. From the beginning of the year, the UK has set up its own steel import quota levels, similar to the system the EC has in place. EU-UK steel trade also involves quotas now but the case for Northern Ireland is more complex as Northern Ireland remains part of the EU Customs Union.

“It’s a wait-and-see on the Northern Ireland. ISTA and various other routes are pushing for imports to be free from duty,” said an England-based source.

Another GB-based source said they were urgently waiting for clarification as they are due to deliver material to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is home to steel-using companies such as bus maker Wrightbus and shipyard Harland & Wolff.

— Laura Varriale