DAVID Cameron was humiliated last night after China slapped fresh tariffs on British steel just hours after he confronted President Xi in the White House, The Sun reports. The PM revealed he took the powerful Beijing boss aside to insist on a solution to China’s steel dumping during a banquet hosted by President Obama on Thursday night.
The Asian giant has decimated Port Talbot’s furnaces and put 40,000 British jobs in serious jeopardy by flooding Europe with its dirt cheap product. Mr Cameron said he had used a nuclear terrorism summit gathering to speak out on “massive over-production and collapsing prices”. A senior Government source said Mr Cameron “highlighted his concerns” to Mr Xi, adding: “He made clear the concerns that we have on the impact this is having on the UK and other countries”.
But yesterday, China’s Ministry of Commerce said it will levy 46% duties on a type of high tech steel produced by Tata Steel in Wales. It said exports of Grain Oriented Electrical Steel are causing “substantial damage” and “material injury” to China’s industry – in move that opens us the prospect of a disastrous new trade war between China and Europe.
Mr Cameron was also forced to defend the government from furious accusations yesterday that it failed Port Talbot workers because of its kowtowing to Beijing. Former Deputy PM Nick Clegg accused George Osborne of putting “his special relationship with China above the UK’s best interests” and slammed ministers for having “continually failed to take action”.
The PM hit back to insist that was “absolutely not the case”. But the European steel industry also yesterday said Britain has been the “ringleader’” in a move to prevent higher tariffs being imposed on cheap Chinese steel imports. Insisting that Britain does back punishing China, Mr Cameron insisted it was the UK that had lead efforts in Brussels to “galvanise action on this front”, adding: “We’re in favour of the anti-dumping tariffs and voted accordingly”.
Ministers instead had only tried to block a bid by France to redraw the EU’s whole tariffs regime that would have installed a damaging protectionist regime, Mr Cameron said. He also promised his Cabinet task force to find a buyer and save Tata’s Port Talbot plant is doing “everything we can”. But the PM also repeated his warning that they may still fail, saying: “It’s a very difficult situation.
“People who pretend there’s some simple easy answer in a world of massive over-production and collapsing prices are not playing straight with you. “This is a global crisis where you can see steel production challenged right across European countries and indeed across the world because there is massive overcapacity.” Staggering figures yesterday revealed China has produced more steel in the past two years than Britain has made since the Industrial Revolution of 1870 – more than 1.5 billion tonnes.
The UK produces just 12 million tonnes of steel a year – less than France, Germany and Italy. The Government also moved to slash crippling energy costs for steel makers yesterday by revealing plans to exempt them from renewable electricity costs. The move could save the steel industry more than £400million by 2020.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Help with energy costs has been one of the steel industry’s key asks and, having extended last year the compensation we are paying out, I want to see progress on exempting them altogether. “While we can’t control the global price of steel, we are doing everything we can to help our steel industry, not just on energy costs but also securing flexibility on EU emissions rules and on tariffs.”