EU steelmakers demand tariffs on China imports

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Europe’s anti-dumping policy looks set to be put to the test again as European steelmakers up the pressure on the Commission to impose punitive duties on imports from China, South Korea and Taiwan, which they say are being dumped on the market at below cost price. But importers warned such duties could affect some seven million metalworkers and mechanical engineers in Europe who rely on cheap imports to remain competitive.

The European Confederation of Iron and Steel Industries (Eurofer), which includes giants such as ArcelorMittal and ThyssenKrupp AG, announced on 29 October that it had filed two anti-dumping complaints with the Commission. The requests concern imports of stainless steel cold-rolled flat products from all three countries and hot-dipped metallic coated sheet and strip from China. Eurofer said that it had sent evidence that “material injury” was being done to the European steel industry, following a 3,300% surge in steel imports from China over the past four years. 

“Massive volumes have been dumped on the EU market…EU domestic prices have been undercut by up to 25%,” said Eurofer in a statement, adding that this had led to a significant loss of market share for European producers, “leading to important under-utilisation of capacity – something that seriously impacts current and future profitability of the sector and puts thousands of European jobs at stake.” 

While the Commission has not yet formally confirmed receipt of this request, Peter Power, spokesman for Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, said that any such complaint would be investigated thoroughly, adding: “It is bound to be a very sensitive and complex case as there is so much at stake.” 

The complaints come as Mandelson is set to present proposals, on 20 November, to fine-tune the EU’s trade defence mechanisms to adapt them to the changing global economy (EURACTIV 8/12/06). 

The debate again threatens to pit manufacturers against importers and consumers, who benefit from the cheap imports – as was the case when the Commission introduced anti-dumping duties on imports of shoes from China and Vietnam last year (EURACTIV 4/10/06). Moreover, traditional supporters of free trade, such as the UK and the Nordic countries, are likely to resist. 

Orgalime, the European Engineering Industries Association, has already signaled its opposition to anti-dumping measures, with Secretary General Adrian Harris arguing: “It just does not make sense to hit the competitiveness of the EU’s metalworking and mechanical engineering SMEs, which provide over seven million jobs throughout the EU, to protect the interests of an industry, which, through its increasingly global development, now only provides 250,000 jobs in a few European countries. For us, matters are simple: our companies must have access to the supplies of steel they need at competitive market conditions. If our traditional suppliers in Europe can provide these, all the better. If not, we need to find alternatives for our companies to be able to continue manufacturing here.” 

The case could also test EU-China relations – already strained by issues relating to consumer protection, counterfeiting, Chinese export subsidies and the rising trade barriers faced by EU businesses to access Chinese markets – ahead of a biltareral summit in late November. 

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