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US tariffs on steel absurd, says Trade Secretary Liam Fox

Tata Steel in Port Talbot Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption More than 31,000 people are employed in the UK steel industry, and 4,000 work at Tata Steel’s plant in Port Talbot, above

US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from allies in Europe and North America are “disappointing” and “absurd”, the UK trade secretary says.

Liam Fox questioned the US decision to 25% tax on steel and a 10% tax on aluminium from the EU, Mexico and Canada.

UK Steel said the tariffs will “see damage not only to the UK steel sector, but also the US economy”.

The EU said it would retaliate with tariffs on products like US bourbon.

As a member of the EU, UK producers will be affected by the added cost to American importers, which could lead to a decline in demand for UK steel and aluminium, potentially affecting thousands of jobs.

According to UK Steel – the body which represents steel producers across the country – 7% of steel exports go to the US, worth £360m.

The organisation’s director Gareth Stace said: “US steel consumers are already reporting price increases and supply chain disruption and with $500m of steel exported from the UK to the US last year, UK steel producers are going to be hit hard.”

“We will now see damage not only to the UK steel sector, but also the US economy.”

US President Donald Trump announced plans for the tariff in March, claiming the threat to US steel and aluminium producers was a national security issue.

Mr Fox said: “It’s very disappointing that the United States has chosen to apply steel and aluminium tariffs… all in the name of national security.

“In the case of the United Kingdom, where we send steel to the United States that is vital for their businesses and their defence industry, it is patently absurd.”

About 31,000 people across the UK work in steel production, with steel mills in the North East, East Midlands, Yorkshire, and Wales.

Tata Steel, which employs 8,500 people across the UK, has called for “swift and robust action” in response to the steel tariffs.

More than 7,000 Tata workers are employed in Wales, including about 4,000 in Port Talbot – the largest steelworks in the UK.

Tata Steel Europe’s chief commercial officer Henrik Adam said: “We now call on the EU Commission to take swift and robust action to combat the indirect effects of these tariffs.”

On Thursday, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the 28 EU member countries would challenge the tariffs and “impose their own balancing import duties on US goods like Florida orange juice, and bourbon whiskey”.

UK exports of aluminium to the US are tiny, but in March the UK’s Aluminium Federation said it feared the 10% tariffs.

President Giles Ashmead said: “While the US is not a major export market for UK-produced aluminium, indiscriminate tariffs are a hindrance to free trade, and do little to secure a ‘level playing field’ for global commerce.”

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