Forging iron / Flickr / Rosebud 23 / EPNA, Brussels / CC BY-NC-NDThe EU industry ministers met to discuss the dramatic situation of the EU steel industry facing huge price competition from China. The anti-dumping measures by the EU have so far hardly curbed the phenomenon, but the member states called for a swift answers to save thousands of jobs.

The EU industry ministers met during the Competitiveness Council on February 29 to address the alarming situation in the steel industry. The member states declared that “the situation of the steel industry needs to be addressed urgently to safeguard the industry from further decline, plant closures and job losses,” according to the Council’s conclusions.

Moreover, they outlined “the need for greater and easier accessible investments in innovation.”

In a recent move to tackle the low Chinese prices, the European Commission had opened three anti-dumping investigations into Chinese steel products on seamless pipes, heavy plates and hot-rolled flat steel.

The EU already has nine ongoing investigations and 37 trade defence measures in place on steel imports.

During a press conference, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the European Commissioner for internal markets, industry, entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), said that these measures need to be used as soon as possible.

“We have to use existing measures, trade defence measures, as quickly as possible. We have for now 37 active measures against the other member states,” Bieńkowska said.

“We conduct anti-dumping investigations as fast as possible, according, of course, to current EU law.”

EU anti-dumping measures too weak

The Commission also proposed to impose provisional anti-dumping duties on cold-rolled flat steel from China and Russia. These duties range between 13.8 and 16 percent.

The French member of the European Parliament (MEP), Edouard Martin, from the centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group and former unionist in the steel industry, said he does not expect any concrete decisions after the Competitiveness Council, since the EU anti-dumping taxes proposed are nothing compare to the United States. (audio in French)

“It is completely insufficient. I remind you that the Chinese steel is being sold on the European continent at unbeatable prices, they are nearly divided by two. So, we could see that the Commission’s responses are not satisfactory,” Martin said.

“There must be much higher rates in order to reach a fair competitiveness. A bit like the Americans have done. They put a customs tax of 256 percent on the Chinese steel imports, and we are only talking about 20 percent. It is peanuts! It is not like this that we are going to save the steel industry.”

Elżbieta Bieńkowska at high-level conference on energy-intensive industries in Brussels on February 15, 2015 / ec.europa.eu

Elżbieta Bieńkowska at high-level conference on energy-intensive industries

At the end of the meeting, Emmanuel Macron, the French industry minister, also criticized the lack of reactivity on the Commission’s side.

He pleaded for faster action even than the US: “The United States reacts in two months – and we take nine months. And on average, they inflict penalties three times higher than us. So we are not credible or even reactive today,” Macron explained.

The French industry minister asked to speed up the investigation process during a debate in the European Parliament on February 15. “We should act faster. We can impose provisional measures, that is, impose measures already when there is a problem,” he explained to a panel of MEPs and unionists.

President of Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) meeting Valdis Dombrovskis on February 29, 2016 / ec.europa.eu

Valdis Dombrovskis meeting German industry and commerce spokesmen

No time to lose

Europe has lost 85,000 steel jobs since 2008, more than 20 percent of the workforce, Axel Eggert, director general of the European Steel Association (EUROFER), said in a recent interview with Euranet Plus.

Britain’s largest steelmaker, Tata Steel, last month also announced it would cut more than a thousand British jobs.

The French MEP Martin warned that “we have no time to lose” and gave other examples of the alarming situation in Europe. (audio in French)

“There is a company in the northern region of Paris, NLMK – the Russian group Novolipetsk Steel – which has just cut in Spain, in Sestao next to Bilbao, 500 jobs. ArcelorMittal is seeing its demand not decreasing, but the company cannot respond anymore because clients want similar prices as the Chinese offer and that is not possible,” Martin explained.

“Poles, Romanians, Germans … there are lots of companies which announced unemployment measures, partial unemployment, until the Commission eventually takes some measures. I have the impression and I fear that if the response is coming too late, by the end of the summer, there would be real dismissals and definitive closings.”

Steel railway wheels within wheels / Flickr / Thomas's Pics / EPNA, Brussels / CC BY 2.0

European steel railway wheels within wheels

No talks about market economy status

The EU, together with other members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is currently assessing the question of granting China market economy status (MES).

Since this topic is highly controversial, it was not put on the official programme of the meeting.

Granting MES to China would be a “disaster,” according to the steel companies. EUROFER argued that it would make all measures against China meaningless.

Moreover, the trade deficit between the EU and China would rise and put between 1,7 to 3,5 million European jobs at risk, according to a study made by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Meanwhile, in order to reduce excess capacities in the coal and steel industries, China on February 29 announced that it would replace 1.8 million workers, representing about 15 percent of the Chinese workforce in the sector.

  • Author: Laeticia Markakis, Euranet Plus News Agency
  • Further image credits: (middle 1) Forging iron / Flickr / Rosebud 23 / EPNA, Brussels / CC BY-NC-ND | (middle 2) Elżbieta Bieńkowska at high-level conference on energy-intensive industries in Brussels on February 15, 2015 / ec.europa.eu | (middle 3) President of Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) meeting Valdis Dombrovskis on February 29, 2016 / ec.europa.eu | (middle 4) Steel railway wheels within wheels / Flickr / Thomas’s Pics / EPNA, Brussels / CC BY 2.0

 

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