Fresh calls for Government to intervene in crisis as China puts up price of British steel

The site of Tata Steel in Stocksbridge. Picture: Andrew Roe
The site of Tata Steel in Stocksbridge. Picture: Andrew Roe
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The Government is under further pressure to intervene in the steel crisis after it emerged China is putting up prices on British steel.

It has been revealed China has imposed hefty new tariffs on some steel products from the European Union in the week in which thousands of Tata Steel were put at risk in South Yorkshire and across the country.

Amid growing anger among MPs, opposition parties are demanding ministers “stand up” to Beijing warning that it has potential to “destroy” what remains of the steel industry in the UK.

The “dumping” by China of huge quantities of cheap steel on world markets is widely seen to have been one of the key factors behind Tata’s decision to sell off its loss-making UK assets - leaving its plants such as Port Talbot in South Wales facing the threat of closure with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

Tata Steel announced plans this week to sell off all of its UK steelworks, including those in Stocksbridge and Rotherham

The Indian firm announced plans to get rid of its 15 UK sites on Tuesday, with board members saying a plan to restructure the business was “unaffordable”. The decision could put more than 2,000 jobs at three South Yorkshire sites, and 15,000 nationally, at risk.

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion told the Times: “The UK has been refusing to put any sort of tariffs on China’s steel, but China is still putting tariffs on UK steel.

“The Government is not standing up for the people it is supposed to be representing.”

The announcement on Friday that Beijing is to impose anti-dumping duties on “under-priced” steel from the EU, Japan and South Korea further inflamed feelings and intensified the calls for the Government to act.

The Chinese ministry of commerce said imports of grain-oriented flat-rolled steel will be charged duties ranging from 14.5 per cent to 46.3 per cent.

Tata’s Cogent subsidiary in Newport is reported to be one of just 16 producers worldwide to make the hi-tech steel product hit by the levy.

Downing Street said David Cameron had raised the problems of global over production of steel with China’s president Xi Jinping during the course of an international nuclear security summit in Washington.

“The Prime Minister raised concerns about the global steel industry, said we needed to work together to tackle the challenges with over-capacity and that G20 could be a good forum to address it later in the year,” a Government source said.

But with the Government already facing accusations that it blocked moves by the EU to raise tariffs on Chinese steel, it did not go far enough for opposition parties, with Labour calling on Business Secretary Sajid Javid to change his position.

In a letter to Mr Javid, shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said: “If the Government and other EU members states now accept that steel making in the Europe is in ‘emergency measures’, then it would be possible to apply ‘safeguards’ to effectively halt the flood of imports into the EU.”

She said Chinese dumping now had “the potential to destroy the UK steel industry”, adding: “Will you commit to picking up the phone to Beijing as a matter of urgency to discuss these proposals?”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the UK steel industry was now paying the price for Chancellor George Osborne’s determination to woo Beijing at any price.

“This news is further pain added onto a community that has been kicked in the gut by Government inaction,” he said.

“The Chancellor has made a ‘better relationship’ with China, a cornerstone of his economic policy. Now the consequences of that decision are being felt by steel workers.

“Rather than standing up for China in the EU, by blocking higher tariffs on their steel, he should be standing up to China on behalf of the UK steel industry.”

Mr Javid, who visited Port Talbot on Friday after breaking off a trade mission to Australia, insisted the UK had been leading efforts in the EU to impose tariffs on cheap Chinese steel.

“I agree the EU needs to act more quickly,” he said.