The speech made by Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, in the House of Commons on 29 June 2022.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her statement and for advance sight of it. The extension of safeguards will come as a welcome relief to the steel sector. It is not anti-competitive to provide a level playing field for our steel industry. I also support the decision to exclude Ukrainian steel.
Labour backs our steel communities up and down the country. Our steel sector is foundational for our economy; we must support it, now and as we transition to net zero. However, it is regrettable that resolution of the issue has once again gone to the eleventh hour, just as it did when the present Foreign Secretary extended the safeguards last year, and that the Secretary of State did not even attend the Select Committee this morning to face scrutiny.
Labour has called on the Secretary of State to extend the safeguards, but also to change the law in advance of this latest decision. When the same safeguards were extended last year, Labour called on the Government to introduce emergency legislation, which we would have supported, so that the national interest could be invoked by Ministers in relation to Trade Remedies Authority advice. It is too weighted towards the interests of importers rather than those of domestic industry, and too narrow in scope in that it does not give sufficient weight to issues such as regional employment and support for nationally important industries, and, indeed, the international context for these safeguarding decisions. The United States and the European Union have such measures, and in the case of the EU, the World Trade Organisation has not found the extension of the safeguards to be in breach of its rules. In short, if there is to be a challenge at the WTO, it will be a mess entirely of the Government’s own making.
Although, of course, I thank the Trade Remedies Authority for its work, there are still issues with its framework.
Ministers appeared to agree with Labour’s analysis when, a year ago, the Government announced a wider review of the Trade Remedies Authority framework “as an urgent priority”, in the words of the then International Trade Secretary—the present Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). Well, it has not been a priority for Ministers. That review has disappeared into the long grass, leaving the country in the position we are in today. Had the review been completed, with wider factors eligible for consideration by the TRA, the Secretary of State would be in a much stronger position, just like other major economies that have steel tariffs in place and have had no problems at the WTO. Ministers knew that this issue of extending the safeguards was coming, but they did not plan for it properly, either in terms of our domestic law or internationally, by working with those countries that have extended safeguards without any problems.
Let me also put on record that the last-minute rush to extend safeguards in no way makes up for the shortcomings in support for the steel industry from this Government, and that Labour has set out plans to secure the industry’s future for years to come by investing £3 billion in the transition to net zero over the next 10 years.
May I ask the Secretary of State when that wider review of the Trade Remedies Authority framework will be completed? May I also ask whether she intends to introduce further legislation once the review is completed? Will she publish all the TRA papers relating to this decision, and will she tell us what lessons have been learned from the WTO ruling on the EU safeguards that have been extended? Finally, can she reassure steelworkers and their families that the framework will have been fully reformed before this matter is considered again?