British steel sector ‘at risk of impending collapse’
The steel industry in Britain and Europe faces a "significant and impending risk of collapse", business ministers have warned in a letter to European Commissioners demanding action to save steel makers.
Ministers including Sajid Javid, the UK Business Secretary, and his counterparts from France, Italy, Germany and Poland have written to the EC spelling out the dangers that imports of subsidised Chinese steel pose to the industry, and calling for the rapid introduction of anti-dumping measures.
The letter, seen by The Daily Telegraph, appeals for the Commission to "use every means available and take strong action". The EU "cannot remain passive when rising job losses and steelworks closures show there is a significant and impending risk of collapse in the European steel sector", the letter said.
Britain's steel industry is in the grip of an unprecedented crisis, with the loss of more than 5,000 jobs since the summer. UK producers say they cannot compete with cheap steel from China flooding the market. They also claim to have been harder hit than European rivals because of higher costs and taxes.
Industry giant Tata has announced more than 2,000 redundancies at its UK steel mills, SSI's Redcar plant collapsed into administration in October with more than 2,000 job losses, and other smaller companies and suppliers have also slashed jobs.
In the letter, ministers call for the EC to speed up investigations before they introduce anti-dumping measures that put a tariff on subsidised steel imports which allow non-EU producers to run at a loss.
It adds: "We should not wait until the damage from unfair practices becomes irreversible for our industry. The Commission should be prepared to open investigations ex officio and to set up measures on the grounds of the 'threat of injury' where the evidence justifies this. The Commission should also quicken the pace of investigations before imposing trade defence measures."
Mr Javid, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to gain relief for the steel industry, has signed the letter in an expression of what sources describe as his "frus- tration" at the slow speed of the EC's actions.
Ministers also use the letter to call for European-level support for energy intensive industries such as steelmaking, giving relief on carbon taxes to the most efficient plants, and aid to help develop new steel processes and technologies. The British trade association, UK Steel, said it was encouraged by the letter.
"This is exactly what we have been calling for, with EU member states pressing the Commission for action," said Gareth Stace, director of the body. "It shows member states understand the seriousness of the crisis the steel industry is facing and are pressing Brussels bureaucrats for action."
Data produced by the International Steel Statistics Bureau forecasts a "dire" year for steel production in the UK, with a plunge of 20pc predicted to be the lowest level on record.
UK Steel hit out at trade tariffs imposed on imports of Chinese "rebar" steel used to reinforce concrete last month, saying the levies showed that European commissioners did not understand the scale of the crisis.