The government is being urged to ‘urgently’ sign a deal with the US to cut the Trump-era steel tariffs that have seen British steel exports across the Atlantic almost halved.
Industry executives, unions and politicians are calling on the US to drop the 25% tariffs that are a hangover from the UK’s previous membership of the EU.
Although the EU reached an agreement to end tariffs from 1 January, the now independent UK has yet to get a deal of its own.
Protocol in play
There are concerns that the Biden administration is delaying any deal to force the UK to reach a separate agreement with the EU over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said a failure from the government to “act in good faith on the international agreements they have made” – including the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement which the Protocol is part of – has put UK jobs at risk.
She told Politico: “We are concerned by reports that the US may be stalling due to the UK’s failure to honour commitments under the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
International trade minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan held talks on the issue in Washington last month but did not reach an agreement.
She invited US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo for talks in London this month but has not received a response.
Shadow trade minister Nick Thomas-Symonds has written to Trevelyan to warn her that British steel exports continue to be affected by the impasse.
“You will be aware that, since the introduction of the tariffs, exports to the United States have declined from 350,000 tonnes in 2017 to 200,000 tonnes in 2020,” he said, in the letter seen by the Mirror.
Thomas-Symonds added that more than three years “after these damaging tariffs were first imposed, the government is no further forward in getting them lifted”.
Although 2020 marked the lowest recorded output for British steel, the industry has since seen a recovery with 2021 production for January to September up 5.2% and full-year output expected to be higher, reports SPS Global.
However, UK Steel director general Gareth Stace said the lack of a US deal, combined with rising energy prices, was an obstacle to the recovery’s continuation.
He added that US talks with Japan appear to be advancing quicker than with the UK.
“This has implications both for export prospects and production,” he said.
Stace also called on the government to revise its procurement policy to favour UK producers.
“We also want mandatory reporting on origin for steel within the government funded direct and indirect projects, while in the meantime we would like to see more use of the steel digital library to help to use more local production,” he said.