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US Steel Tariffs

Volume 707: debated on Thursday 20 January 2022

6. What recent discussions she has had with her US counterpart on the tariffs on UK steel exports to the US. (905106)

I was pleased to meet virtually with the US Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, yesterday to discuss the application of US section 232 tariffs. As set out in our joint statement, which was published last night, the US has agreed to commence negotiations with the UK. I welcome that positive development, and I will push for a deal that is right for the UK. I will continue to work closely with industry throughout the negotiations. The UK accounts for less than 1% of US steel and aluminium imports in volume terms, so UK imports do not affect the viability or the national security of the US steel or aluminium industries.

The International Trade Secretary will recall the Hallowe’en agreement from last year, when the US gave tariff-free access to the EU for steel and aluminium exports from the beginning of this year. That means that the EU will now have a 25% price advantage over UK steel and aluminium exports to the US. In fact, any UK steel, even if worked on in the EU, will still attract tariffs in the US. Is that what the Prime Minister meant when said he said Brexit was about taking back control?

As I said, it is a Government priority to secure a good deal and ensure that we find the right way forward to get out of the section 232 tariffs, which we are doing at pace. The US Secretary of State for Commerce and I will work to ensure that that imbalance is removed as quickly as possible.

At the start of last month, I wrote to the Secretary of State about those steel tariffs, which have been in place since 2018 and have already done great damage. In 2017, exports of steel and aluminium to the United States were more than 350,000 tonnes. In 2020, that had fallen to 200,000 tonnes. The situation is urgent, because as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick) set out, the EU gained a competitive advantage on new year’s day, with the US having lifted tariffs for EU member states but not the UK. I welcome the opening of those negotiations, but will the Secretary of State confirm that in advance of those talks the Prime Minister raised the issue personally with President Biden?

I assure the House that I have been extremely robust in moving the issue along since coming into post. I am pleased that we were able to launch these negotiations yesterday. It is important that we sort out and remove those unnecessary and burdensome tariffs on the UK. The UK steel and aluminium industries are not a threat to the US ones. We were working closely at every level to ensure that we find a solution as quickly as possible.

The lifting of the tariffs is vital for jobs and livelihoods across the country, yet the Secretary of State could not confirm that the Prime Minister has raised the issue with President Biden. The truth is that the Prime Minister has been more interested in saving his own job than in saving jobs in the steel sector. The longer the tariffs remain in place, the more damage the Government allow to happen to our steel sector, a foundational industry that is vital for our economy. If the Secretary of State cannot even confirm that the Prime Minister has picked up the phone to the US President about that, are people not right to conclude that the Prime Minister is focused on saving himself and does not care about steelworkers’ jobs?

I hope that the right hon. Member will assist us in the negotiations by speaking to their counterparts and indeed all those across the US who want the tariffs removed. I reiterate that at every level of the UK Government we have raised the issue with the US, and we are therefore at the point where we are now starting negotiations, which will move at pace. I look forward to his assisting us to ensure a successful outcome.