Fox: Trump’s steel tariff wrong way to deal with problem

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said it was ‘doubly absurd’ the tariff would apply to British suppliers to the US military.

Press Association
Last updated:09 March 2018 - 04.00am

It is “absurd” for the UK to be hit by the steel tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said.

The UK steel industry has warned it could be badly hit after the president confirmed plans for a 25% tariff on imports.

Dr Fox said the policy championed by Mr Trump was “the wrong way” to tackle the problem of cheap steel being dumped on the US market.

But Labour’s shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, wrote to Dr Fox criticising his failure to address Parliament on the tariffs since they were first announced earlier this month.

The tariff – which Mr Trump said was aimed at protecting national security and American jobs – could trigger a full-blown trade war if the European Union responds with countermeasures.

Trade body UK Steel said the tariffs could have a “profound and detrimental impact”, while the Community union demanded action to protect British jobs and avoid a “global trade war”.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, whose constituency in south Wales includes the giant Port Talbot steelworks, said Theresa May had “let down” British workers by failing to stand up to the US President.

While Mr Gardiner addressed Dr Fox, saying: “For an entire week you have failed to come to the House of Commons to tell Parliament what representations you have made to the United States or the European Union to protect UK steel producers. Why?

“Do you not care that 32,000 skilled men and women who work in our steel sector are fearful for their jobs and their families’ future. They are waiting to hear some words of support from this Government for their industry.

“When will you do the decent thing and come to the House to made a statement?”

Speaking in the White House with a group of workers, Mr Trump confirmed the levy on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminium in response to an “assault on our country” from cheap overseas metal.

There would be exemptions for North America Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) states Mexico and Canada, and Mr Trump said other countries may be able to negotiate to avoid the tariffs.

Mr Trump said if his goals could be accomplished “by other means” the US will remain “open to modifying or removing the tariffs for individual nations as long as we can agree on a way to ensure that their products no longer threaten our security”.

Donald Trump holds up a proclamation on steel imports (Susan Walsh/AP)
Donald Trump holds up a proclamation on steel imports (Susan Walsh/AP)

On BBC’s Question Time, Dr Fox said he would visit Washington next week.

In comments before the tariffs were confirmed, he said the UK produces “very high value steel, some of which can’t be sourced in the United States and will simply push up the price of steel there”.

“We also make steel for the American military programme so it’s doubly absurd that we should then be caught on an investigation on national security.

“So our view is yes we can deal multilaterally with the overproduction of steel, but this is the wrong way to go about it.”

UK Steel’s director Gareth Stace said the tariffs “would have a profound and detrimental impact on the UK steel sector, which exported some 350,000 tonnes of products to the US in 2017, over 7% of its total exports”.

“The UK sector is in the midst of a fragile recovery following years of considerable turmoil, it would be utterly devastating if this were to be undermined.”

He said it was “vital” the EU and UK worked with the US administration on exemptions to the tariff.

But the industry also fears the indirect consequences of Mr Trump’s actions, which could lead to cheap Chinese steel being dumped on European markets instead of sold to the USA.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of steelworkers’ union Community, said: “Donald Trump’s short-sighted strategy will put jobs at risk on both sides of the Atlantic.

“It is now more important than ever that Theresa May and Liam Fox use every bit of influence they have left in America to protect the jobs of British steelworkers.

“The steel crisis cost our industry thousands of jobs and the last thing we need now is a global trade war.

“The UK government must work with other EU nations to ensure we do not suffer the global consequences of Donald Trump’s actions.”

The EU’s trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the bloc should be excluded from the measures and she would meet US trade representative Robert Lighthizer to discuss the situation on Saturday.