The UK government said it will consult with other countries at the World Trade Organization on its plan to extend steel tariffs, after prime minister Boris Johnson said it was “reasonable” to use them to protect Britain’s domestic industry.
“No decision has yet been taken,” Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davies said to reporters on Monday, ahead of a June 30 deadline when some of the tariffs will expire. The decision “will balance our international obligations and the national interest.”
The UK has proposed to extend safeguard tariffs and quotas on certain steel products for a further two years, after International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that ending them may cause “serious injury” to British producers. On Sunday, Johnson said UK steel ought to enjoy the “same protections” as in other European economies.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that Johnson is preparing measures designed to protect UK manufacturers from a “flood of cheap steel” from overseas, steps that it said could appeal to voters in traditionally Labour-voting steel-producing areas.
“We need British steel to be provided with much cheaper energy and cheap electricity for its blast furnaces,” Johnson told reporters at the Group of Seven summit in Germany on Sunday. “But until we can fix that, I think it is reasonable for UK steel to have the same protections that other European, absolutely every other European steel economy does.”
Johnson said the difficulty was in addressing the issue while remaining within WTO obligations. “But these are tough choices that you have to make,” he added.
Last year the UK’s Trade Remedies Authority, a state body which advises on trade policies, recommended that the British government remove tariffs on some steel products because of a lack of evidence that they were justified. Liz Truss, who was Britain’s trade secretary at the time, overruled the TRA and extended the tariffs until June 30. The tariffs could be challenged at the WTO if the UK can’t prove why they’re necessary.
“Continuation of the steel tariffs last year had widespread party and industry support,” said Davies. “We will consult with WTO members this week.”