Plans to drop steel safeguards are a kick in the teeth to steel making communities
In a global steel market that is characterised by overcapacity, Britain will become one of the least protected of the major steel markets. The steel sector deserves better.
The Trade Remedies Authority has recommended the halving of the UK’s existing steel safeguards - a kick in the teeth to steel making communities across the country.
When we left the EU, the government made a promise; a promise that we would be able to support British industry more than we had done previously, and that foundational sectors like steel would be at the forefront of government’s thinking.
We were told that our economy would be ‘levelled up’, and that good jobs outside London would be a priority for this government. Unfortunately, in the first major test of our new trading priorities, the government has broken this promise. The TRA have made a decision that does not take into account the realities of steel production and the challenges steel companies face.
These safeguards are not barriers to trade, they exist to protect the UK’s steel sector against unprecedented import surges. In a global market characterised by trade barriers, the UK has decided to unilaterally halve our own measures whilst the EU and US are keeping theirs in place. This decision risks us becoming a magnet for huge volumes of steel imports getting diverted from these markets, threatening the long-term viability of our steel sector.
The Trade Remedies Authority have taken the decision to level down our protections and undermine the steel sector
How are our steel sites supposed to make a business case to investors for long term projects like decarbonising, when government will speak positively about the sector one moment, only to strip away their protections from import surges the next?
This decision will damage steel sites in my constituency in Newport East and across Britain. These sites provide well paid jobs and have been at the heart of communities like ours for decades. An agenda to level up Britain is an agenda to support the steel sector, yet the Trade Remedies Authority have taken the decision to level down our protections and undermine the steel sector, just as we emerge from the pandemic.
The government set up the Trade Remedies Authority and designed a system where there is almost no flexibility for the Secretary of State to consider the wider public interest or the wider economic impact of the recommendations made by the TRA. Instead, she can either reject the recommendations she has been given, meaning that the entire suite of measures would expire on 30th June, or she can accept a flawed outcome from a flawed process.
The Secretary of State’s decision is one that will affect jobs and investment for years to come. She should not hide behind officials and arm’s length bodies but rather demand that the TRA reconsiders their position and considers a wider range of factors. Liz Truss has said that she is reviewing her powers on TRA decisions, but for the steel sector that is too little, too late.
When the government are challenged on the lack of support for the steel sector – from procurement to electricity prices – they are quick to point to the benefits of Brexit for the sector. They argue that they will be able to channel more public procurement and be free of EU state aid rules that have prevented action in the past. Yet now, the EU are maintaining their own steel safeguards. The US are maintaining theirs. In a global steel market that is characterised by overcapacity, we will become one of the least protected of the major steel markets.
The steel sector deserves much more than to be collateral damage as the TRA is reformed, and the government's response on this issue will prove to be a major test of its commitment to supporting our steel industry - a sector which should be front and centre of a forward-looking industrial strategy.
Jessica Morden is the Labour MP for Newport East.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.