The race to arm Bri­tain against a hos­tile new world

The UK is tak­ing steps to boost its defences against the dump­ing of goods, writes Anna Isaac

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Global Trade - The

As Brexit looms and the UK seeks to as­sert its in­de­pen­dent trade pol­icy, talk of a global trade war is mount­ing. In a cli­mate where the US is de­fy­ing the post-sec­ond World War con­sen­sus on a rules-based, free-trade sys­tem, the state of the UK’S readi­ness to de­fend it­self amid ris­ing global trade ten­sions has be­come a press­ing is­sue.

Don­ald Trump, the US pres­i­dent, has pushed ahead with met­als tar­iffs, af­fect­ing al­lies in­clud­ing the EU, Canada and Mex­ico with levies of 25pc on steel and 10pc on alu­minium.

The move thrust 30,000 UK steel jobs into doubt. It also put a greater fo­cus on what states can do to tackle the is­sue of dump­ing – re­cently the re­sult of state-backed over­pro­duc­tion in China – tak­ing its toll on in­dus­try. Cut­ting off the US mar­ket for Chi­nese metal pro­duc­tion prompted fears of in­creased vol­umes be­ing sold into oth­ers, adding to the im­pact of dump­ing by de­press­ing steel prices in the EU.

Dur­ing the re­cent dis­pute be­tween US and Cana­dian air­craft mak­ers Air­bus and Bom­bardier, the UK was cov­ered by the supra­na­tional EU um­brella. It was the same with the lat­est US trade move. Ce­cilia Malm­strom, the EU trade com­mis­sioner, talked tough, while Theresa May, the Prime Min­is­ter, said re­mark­ably lit­tle.

This has not served to dent the con­fi­dence of some Brex­i­teers, how­ever, and those in charge of the UK’S new trade defences.

“It’s well timed for the UK to be a very strong, com­mit­ted voice for free trade and the rules-based in­ter­na­tional sys­tem,” Greg Hands, min­is­ter of state for trade told

Sun­day Tele­graph. The main route for this voice will be an in­de­pen­dent role at the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WTO), the global ar­biter of trade dis­putes.

US faith in the in­sti­tu­tion is weak. Mr Trump has called it a “catas­tro­phe” and Wil­bur Ross, the US com­merce sec­re­tary, la­belled its ef­forts a “joke”. How­ever, the wider mem­ber­ship of the WTO re­mains com­mit­ted to an in­ter­na­tional rules-based trad­ing sys­tem.

Mr Hands is over­see­ing the set­ting up of a UK Trade Reme­dies Author­ity (TRA) to take charge of anti-dump­ing ac­tions.

This body will take on the job of

de­cid­ing what goods will be hit with so-called anti-dump­ing mea­sures. These in­volve ex­tra taxes be­ing levied on im­ported goods to pre­vent them un­fairly un­der­min­ing the com­pet­i­tive­ness of UK in­dus­try.

Many of those in place at the EU level protect the economic in­ter­ests of coun­tries very dif­fer­ent to the UK’S. Some goods, once freed of these levies at a UK level may be­come cheaper for con­sumers. Other fu­ture levies may have to be con­sid­ered and added to goods.

Even though the TRA is not yet legally ap­proved, nearly £9m has been spent on it. Ad­verts are out for the re­cruit­ment of around 100 staff and

ef­forts are be­ing made to set up an of­fice in Read­ing.

One trade ex­pert ad­vis­ing on Brexit says that while there are in­creas­ingly full-strength teams, there are still not enough peo­ple with ex­pe­ri­ence at the top. This risks slow­ing down de­ci­sion mak­ing. Many of the re­cruits bol­ster­ing key Brexit de­part­ments are “not long out of univer­sity” and while they are work­ing hard to get up to speed with trade is­sues, there is a great deal of ground to make up.

Oth­ers note that while it has never been such a com­pet­i­tive time for the re­cruit­ment of those with ex­per­tise in trade – the salaries at­tached to the TRA job ads might not be high enough to at­tract top peo­ple.

Mr Hands’s most press­ing concern about trade pol­icy is get­ting out of the EU’S cus­toms union cleanly and promptly. Un­less or un­til the UK does leave the cus­toms union, the TRA will not be used.

A plethora of in­dus­try bod­ies are concerned that they will strug­gle

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