Sheffield steel bosses voice fears for future over proposal to ditch tariffs

Steel bosses say they fear for the future of the sector if the government presses ahead with plans to ditch tariffs on imports.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 5:35 pm

They say not only would it open the floodgates to cheap Chinese steel, decimating domestic producers, but it could also risk people’s safety.

And it could throw a spanner into Liberty Steel’s plans to sell its Stocksbridge steelworks to pay debts, putting 760 jobs at risk.

Sheffield business leaders spoke out after the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate, an arm’s length body of the Department for International Trade, recommended slashing measures to safeguard UK steel from July. Trade Secretary Liz Truss will have the final decision.

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Sir Andrew Cook at William Cook Cast Products in Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees

Sir Andrew Cook boss of Sheffield-based William Cook Holdings said it was ‘madness’.

He added: “Chinese steel dumped in the UK at below cost price has already brought the domestic industry to its knees. What our industry needs is, frankly, a wholesale ban on Chinese-made steel. Not only is it causing the ruin of a major strategic industry, but there is a safety consideration too.”

Sir Andrew claimed not only was China slashing prices to destroy western capability but its products were inferior and Chinese-made nuts and bolts could break.

He added: “The government should ignore calls from the International Steel Trade Association to slash import restrictions on Chinese steel. This body only represents the distributors, who buy and sell the steel. They don’t make the stuff and are not strategic to the UK.

Furnaces at Liberty Steel in Rotherham.

“They like Chinese steel, because the cheaper they can buy, the bigger their profits. But it is time for the national interest to come first. Britain needs a domestic steel industry: our steel mills can be profitable, and it is up to our government to give them the protection from dumped imports which they deserve.”

Adam Bradley, director at Corrosion Resistant Materials in Sheffield, said the closure of the Stocksbridge steelworks would leave a huge hole in the supply chain for aerospace and oil and gas.

He added: “Those that have stock can make short term gains but there is a shortage on the horizon that will affect UK manufacturing that at the moment can only be plugged by European or Chinese steels.

“This would be a great moment for Boris Johnson to support a world class steel manufacturer and bring it under government ownership.

“Brexit was meant to be the catalyst for the UK to be more self sufficient. This would be a great first step and save thousands of jobs in the process.”

Tom Turner, group sales director at Kelpack, a compactor and baler manufacturer, said there was already a shortage of steelstock and recent global price rises had made manufacturing and costing even trickier than over the past 18 months.

He added: “I can't help but feel that during a global shortage, not having production facilities here in the UK is going to be detrimental for UK manufacturing businesses like ourselves that try to use local suppliers wherever possible.”

Ian Hepworth, trade finance specialist, said the timing of the sale of Liberty’s Stocksbrige site was bad.

He added: “Without tariffs, the UK steel industry is arguably not viable. The EU and US have tariffs in place. China would almost certainly increase prices once in control of supply.

“Stocksbridge and its steel-making capabilities should be cherished.”

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.