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UK trade secretary extends controversial steel protections

LONDON — Britain’s trade chief is extending several controversial measures meant to protect Britain’s domestic steel producers from a flood of cheaper Chinese imports, despite concerns from government watchdogs.

Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has decided to extend five measures protecting the industry until June 2024 after her predecessor used emergency legislation last year to keep the guards in place. The original protections were rolled over from the EU after Britain left the bloc.

“The retention of the measure for these categories of steel is in the economic interest of the U.K.,” said the Department for International Trade in a statement alongside the findings of Trevelyan’s investigation.

If the five measures “were discontinued, there would be serious injury or the threat of serious injury to U.K. producers,” the statement added.

But several nations, including China, South Korea, Switzerland and Brazil have questioned the legality of the U.K. extending measures under World Trade Organization rules after they were adopted from the EU. They argued Britain should carry out its own investigation into the impact of the guards on its domestic industry.

Johnson’s ethics chief Christopher Geidt also questioned the legality of the move to extend the safeguards before he dramatically quit last week. Geidt made clear in a subsequent letter that he “could not be party to advising on potential law-breaking.”

Trevelyan’s predecessor Liz Truss initially extended the measures for one year on June 30, 2021. That allowed the steel industry to appeal initial advice from the government’s trade independent advisers, the Trade Remedies Authority (TRA), that they should be scrapped.

A fresh investigation by TRA, published Thursday, supports Trevelyan’s move, but its verdict comes only after the trade secretary intervened to direct its analysis to focus on specific parameters.

The TRA also suggests raising import quotas on some products, a move Trevelyan will now pursue after warnings from steel purchasers about their trade impact.

“The government’s interventions will guard against anticipated surges in imports from trade diverted away from the U.S. and EU markets that will remain shielded for years to come,” said Gareth Stace, director general of the industry lobby UK Steel.

Stace credited the “determination and purpose shown by the prime minister [Boris Johnson] and the secretaries of state” at the business and trade departments “in ensuring the right result was ultimately delivered.”

Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.

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