LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking tighter quotas for steel imports from emerging economies to protect domestic producers, a move which could breach international trade rules, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.
“The Prime Minister is preparing to hit several developing countries with new ‘safeguard’ import limits designed to protect UK manufacturers from a ‘flood of cheap steel’ from overseas,” the newspaper said, without citing sources.
Britain proposed on Thursday to extend for a further two years an existing package of tariffs and quotas on five steel products to protect domestic steelmakers.
However, the Sunday Telegraph said wider measures were being finalised for announcement in the coming week, in a bid to bolster support for Johnson in industrial areas which had historically supported the opposition Labour Party.
Some senior government figures opposed the wider plans, partly because of fears of retaliatory action on British exports such as whisky and potential damage to Britain’s broader reputation, the newspaper said.
“This is going to screw the economy. It is a total violation of the WTO rules … this is anti-Conservative, anti-free market and anti-capitalist,” it quoted one unnamed government figure as saying.
Johnson’s office referred questions about the report to Britain’s trade ministry, which said no final decision had been made, and indicated that it would seek to balance international obligations with Britain’s national interest.
These proposed new steel tariffs and quotas were what triggered the June 16 resignation of Johnson’s ethics advisor, Christopher Geidt, the Sunday Telegraph added.
Geidt said at the time that he had been put in an “odious position” by a government commercial policy he did not describe, and which Johnson said related to trade tariffs and the WTO.