Steel industry set for crunch meeting with European bureaucrats over trade duties
Britain's in-crisis steel sector to demand swifter action from European Commission to protect the industry
Bosses from Britain’s embattled steelmakers are to confront European officials to demand stronger action to help the industry survive the current crisis.
Steel chiefs, government ministers and unions from across Europe will meet top European Commission officials in Brussels on Monday where they will demand measures to help the industry weather the “perfect storm” created by a flood of subsidised steel from China, global over-capacity and high energy prices.
The UK’s steel industry has been brought to its knees, with the loss of more than 5,000 British steel-making jobs - a quarter of the total - over the past 12 months.
High-profile losses have come at Tata’s Port Talbot and Scunthorpe plants, along with SSI’s Redcar blast furnace, which alone saw more than 2,000 redundancies.
Although billed as a “conference on energy intensive industries”, government and industry sources say it is an unofficial emergency summit on the future of Europe’s steel industry.
Gareth Stace, director of trade body UK Steel, said: “This is a major event and confirmation of how serious the situation is. It’s a test for the member states and the commission to stand in front of the industry and say how they are going to take action to ensure steel making survives in Europe.”
UK Steel has been calling for faster action by the EC to impose trade tariffs to discourage state-backed steel makers in China from dumping their products in Europe. Although the body has welcomed the introduction of levies on some imports, it added the low levels they were set at were a “slap in the face” to the industry because they were not high enough to have any impact.
“The situation facing Tata Steel and other European steel makers today is perilous,” said Karl Koehler, head of Tata Steel’s European operations who is due in Brussels on Monday. “If the EC does not take immediate and robust action, thousands of jobs in the industry – and many thousands more in the wider supply chain – will be threatened.”
The views were echoed by other UK steel makers. John Beeley, managing director of Finnish-owned Outokumpu Stainless in Sheffield, warned against the EU supporting China’s bid for market economy status until it stops subsidising its steel makers. Granting it such coveted standing “would be a disaster. We are not frightened of competition but it has to be fair,” he said.
Business minister Anna Soubry is due to speak at the conference . It is understood she sees the event as a chance for European countries with prominent steel-making industries – such as Germany, Italy and France – to present a united front to the EC, racheting up the pressure to bring in tariffs more swiftly.
The meeting takes place as exclusive research for The Telegraph by Begbies Traynor underlined the desperate situation. The data revealed a 46pc increase in the number of steel production companies classed as in “significant distress” compared with a year ago, with the number of their suppliers in a similar predicament, having risen by a fifth.
The research also found that steel makers are loading up with debt as they battle to survive, with a 75pc increase to the borrowings on their combined balance sheets to £1.5bn when compared with the same period a year ago.