US, UK launch talks to resolve steel, aluminium dispute, address excess capacity

The talks on US steel and aluminium tariffs will also cover Britain's retaliatory tariffs on US products. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States and Britain on Wednesday (Jan 19) agreed to launch talks aimed at resolving their trade dispute over US steel and aluminium tariffs, the countries said in a joint statement.

No specific date or timeline was given for the talks but discussions will address "global steel and aluminium excess capacity, including the United States' application of tariffs" on the metals from Britain.

"Both parties are committed to working towards an expeditious outcome that ensures the viability of steel and aluminium industries in both markets against the continuing shared challenge of global excess capacity and strengthens their democratic alliance," the countries said in the joint statement.

They said the talks also will cover the UK's 25 per cent retaliatory tariffs on US products, which include whisky, motorcycles, blue jeans and tobacco.

Annual exports of US whisky to Britain have fallen by more than half since 2018, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, which welcomed the announcement.

A spokesperson for Britain's trade ministry said: "Until a deal is done we will continue to apply rebalancing measures on US products, and won't hesitate to take any action necessary to defend our vital steel and aluminium industries."

The joint statement was issued after a virtual meeting between US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and UK Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan to discuss the tariffs.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai also signed onto the joint statement.

Britain is keen to negotiate duty-free access to American steel and aluminium markets similar to that granted by Washington to the European Union on Jan 1 as part of a quota deal reached last October that took six months to negotiate.

The metals tariffs - 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium - were first imposed in March 2018 by former US President Donald Trump under a the "Section 232" Cold War-era national security law to protect US producers from a flood of subsidised imports.

As part of the US-EU deal, Washington will allow 4 million tons of EU "melted and poured" steel into the United States annually in exchange for Brussels dropping retaliatory tariffs against US products.

American Iron and Steel Institute President Kevin Dempsey cautioned against letting in too much more steel as part of negotiations with Britain and Japan, noting that imports rose by nearly half in 2021 compared with a year earlier.

"Given these substantial increases, we think it is essential that the administration ensures that the various new agreements it is considering do not result in a flood of imports," that could cause domestic capacity usage to drop below "healthy" levels, he said in a statement.

Ms Raimondo and Ms Trevelyan also agreed to work to address global excess capacity in steel and aluminum production largely centred in China - a goal included in the US-EU agreement.

The announcement of talks comes at a sensitive time for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose leadership is under threat after a series of revelations about Covid-19 lockdown breaches at his residence.

If that crisis develops into a formal leadership challenge, it could paralyse decision-making within government for several weeks and limit ministers' mandate to negotiate the concessions needed to reach a compromise with the United States.

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