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UK to impose tariffs on steel imports for another two years, government says | Exchange policy


Tariffs on steel imports from China and other countries are to be extended for another two years, the UK government has announced, admitting the move risked breaching World Trade Organization rules ( WTO).

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, said the government was acting in the “public interest” and to protect “thousands” of jobs. She said Ukrainian steel would be exempt from customs duties.

The decision comes less than two weeks after concerns over the tariffs were raised by Boris Johnson’s former ethics adviser, Lord Geidt.

Plans to protect Britain’s steel industry “deviate from our international legal obligations” but are in the “national interest”, Trevelyan said.

She admitted: “The government wants to impress upon Parliament that the decision to extend guarantees [tariffs] on the five product categories derogates from our international legal obligations under the relevant WTO agreement.

“However, from time to time, problems may arise where the national interest requires action to be taken, which may conflict with normal rules and procedures.”

Many steelworks are in ‘red-walled’ constituencies, such as Scunthorpe and South Wales, which are key to the government’s general election prospects.

Yet the decision was condemned by free-market supporters, Anthony Mangnall, the Tory MP for Totnes, saying he supported the steel industry but ‘not through protective measures’.

“I never would have thought that being a Free Trader in this party would be such a unique and rare position to hold,” he said. “What message does this send to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan or any other country that we sign a free trade agreement with when we end up invoking national interests on the agreements that we signed?”

The government’s decision will see existing tariffs on five grades of steel extended until June 2024 to match the expiry date of tariffs on 10 other grades of steel, including gas lines and railroad equipment. .

Gareth Stace, the director of trade body UK Steel, welcomed the intervention, saying it showed the government was supporting the industry. The move would protect against surges in imports that would have “risked jobs, investment and our ability to go to net zero,” he said.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow international trade secretary, said the move would be a “welcome relief” for the steel industry and ensure a level playing field against cheap imports.

But, he said, the tariff extension “does nothing to make up for the shortcomings in support for the steel industry from this government.”

He also said he was surprised that the government was extending tariffs in a way that could put him in breach of WTO rules.

“If there is to be a WTO challenge, it will be a mess entirely by the government itself,” he said.

He called on the government to publish the full Trade Remedies Authority analysis that led to the advice.

Geidt cited plans to expand the tariff regime as a matter of concern in his resignation letter 12 days ago. He wrote: “I have been instructed to offer a view on the government’s intention to consider measures which risk a willful and willful violation of the ministerial code. This request has placed me in an impossible and odious situation…

“The idea that a Prime Minister could, to any degree, be deliberately violating his own code is an affront. A deliberate violation, or even an intention to do so, would be to suspend the provisions of the code to serve a political end. This would not only ridicule compliance with the code, but would authorize the suspension of its provisions governing the conduct of Her Majesty’s Ministers.

Although he later clarified his remarks, saying the issue was a ‘distraction’ from his real reasons for quitting, Geidt told The Daily Telegraph the pricing policy proposal ‘was just one example of what which could still constitute deliberate breaches by the UK of its obligations under international law.”

Trevelyan added that after “further analysis” of the impact of tariffs by the Trade Remedies Authority, the government had “concluded that there would be serious harm or threat of serious harm if the safeguard on five additional grades of steel were to be deleted at this stage”. time”.

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The tariffs were originally imposed as part of an EU ‘safeguard’ measure in 2018 during Donald Trump’s dispute with China and were reimposed last year by the UK after Brexit .

They applied to 15 categories of steel products, including railway equipment and gas pipes, but five of the tariff categories were due to expire on Thursday, with the others due to expire in June 2024.