EU Starts Steel-Import Surveillance Amid Fear of China Surge

The European Union began surveillance of steel imports amid a surge from China, the world’s biggest producer of the metal.

The EU triggered a system for monitoring steel imports so it can urge restraint by trade partners or impose tariffs more quickly should cheaper foreign supplies threaten European producers such as ArcelorMittal and ThyssenKrupp AG. The system applies to products that account for about 40 percent of EU steel imports and is due to last until May 15, 2020.

European steelmakers face “a threat of injury” as a result of import trends, continued weak demand in Europe and the likelihood that current and future excess capacity would be re-directed to the EU should consumption recover, the commission, the 28-nation bloc’s executive arm in Brussels, said on Friday in the Official Journal.

Steel has become a renewed source of tension in EU-China trade relations as Chinese producers challenge European manufacturers by shipping surplus supply to Europe. China, which accounts for about half of worldwide steel production and last year posted its slowest economic growth in more than two decades, in January pledged steel-capacity cuts that the EU says will be inadequate to re-balance the market.

Steel Products

Over the past four months, the EU has imposed or threatened to impose tariffs on a range of Chinese steel products to counter alleged below-cost — or “dumped” — shipments. The bloc has also vowed to open more steel-dumping probes if necessary and to accelerate decisions on anti-dumping duties.

The batch of new trade cases highlights the clout of Europe’s steel industry. It has annual turnover of 166 billion euros ($189 billion), accounts for 1.3 percent of EU gross domestic product and directly provides 328,000 jobs, according to the commission.

The European steel industry has shed 7,000 jobs since last autumn — including some in the U.K. where Tata Steel Ltd. plans to sell its ailing steel operations — and more than 85,000 posts since 2008, according to Brussels-based trade association Eurofer.

The EU surveillance system requires European steel importers to apply for a license valid for four months. This gives national authorities, who must grant the license automatically, an indication of future imports. Statistics on actual steel imports come weeks after the products have arrived.

The monitoring, which would also facilitate any EU decision to impose rarely used quantitative limits on imports, will start in 21 days.

It will cover imports of 46 products or groups of products such as non-alloy hot-rolled coils, cold-rolled sheets, quarto plates, wire rods and welded pipes from all non-EU countries except Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Imports whose net weight is 2,500 kilograms (5,512 pounds) or less will be excluded.

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