Examination of Witnesses

Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 23 January 2018.

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Tom Reynolds, Gareth Stace and Cliff Stevenson gave evidence.

I have a couple of quick admin points. I understand that there may be a Division in the House at 3.45 pm. If there is, I will suspend the Committee for 15 minutes until 4 o’clock and we will add an extra 15 minutes at the end to make up for it.

Mr Stace, I gather that you have to give evidence to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill Committee and you may therefore have to leave this session early. Is that right?

Gareth Stace:

That is correct. If that were possible, I would be grateful.

It is possible. Just tip us a wink when you have to go and we will say goodbye.

Gareth Stace:

I think one of your Clerks is going to escort me.

Perfect. I call Barry Gardiner. [Interruption.] Well, failing that, I call Mark Prisk.

No, the Opposition failed, so we will give the Government a try. I call Mark Prisk.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

Q Thank you, Mr Gray. I have asked other witnesses about the remedies regime, and I am interested in your views. In a way, you all represent industries that are familiar with this challenge. “Remedies” sounds arcane, but it is really about all the challenges a locality may face with dumping in particular business sectors. What would you want to see in an effective remedies authority, and what would need to change in the Bill to deliver that?

Gareth Stace:

Let me start with what would need to change in the Bill. We would like to see more detail in the Bill. The Bill sets out powers to create an independent arm’s length authority—the Trade Remedies Authority—to advise the Secretary of State, but there is no detail. There is little detail of the powers that it might have or of the scope of its remit. I am sure that will come in secondary legislation or after that, but as you quite rightly said, industries that are or have been subject to dumping and unfair trade practices are quite nervous about what is going to happen in the UK, and the more detail we have, the better. That is why at this stage we are quite nervous about what might or might not come out down the line.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

Q We know that there is not a lot of detail—it is a framework—but is there something specific, such as an appeals process, that you want to be teased out in our deliberations?

Gareth Stace:

Yes, an appeals process—there is no detail in the Bill—is not even set out as: “The appeals process will be this, this and this.” We do not even know what the basis of appeals might be, because we do not know how the TRA will define subsidy, injury and dumping. We do not even have something to base that on.

Tom Reynolds:

It is clear that we need a TRA, and it is certainly welcome that the Bill establishes one. I want to rebut a point made by an earlier witness, who said that trade remedies are invariably captured by producer interests. That certainly has not been the experience in the European system. I am sure that Gareth agrees that that was apparent in the steel crisis—the trade remedy system was slow to react to the producer interest.

We have to read the Bill alongside the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill. My feeling is that the rules for the TRA, which are set out in that other Bill, tip the balance the other way, against the producer interest. There are areas where that Bill and the way that it works with this Bill can be improved, which I would be happy to explore with the Committee.

Tom Reynolds:

There are really four points. The public interest test and the economic interest test is of concern because, as Gareth has already pointed out, the lack of detail means it could operate in any number of ways. Our fear is that it might include an over-simplistic cost-benefit analysis that appears very seductive in its indication that the benefit for producers may be outweighed by the damage to the consumers, when it does not show the full story and perhaps the long-term impact to the consumer that removal of a competitive environment for domestic producers creates if the trade remedies are insufficient to keep production here in the UK.

A big concern for ceramics—the country of concern that is dumping into the European Union at the moment is China—is how you calculate the dumping margin in instances where the domestic price cannot be used because it is subject to such state distortion. That detail is crucial to the effectiveness of the trade remedies system.

There are other issues, such as the lesser duty rule—it was touched on earlier. For the proper operation of the lesser duty rule, we would need to see the detail and how you calculate injury. That is crucial. Pushing all of this into the long grass just adds a lot of uncertainty and concern for producers.

Cliff Stevenson:

Because the Bill is simply setting up a framework for the TRA and not really having anything more substantive than that, there are only small points that you might look at, but there are some important points. For example, the composition of the members of the TRA is critical because trade remedies is a highly political area of policy where there are very different views. Some see trade remedies as purely protectionist and would abolish them completely, and some see trade remedies as an essential competition policy-type tool to correct multilateral distortions.

I am in the second group. I believe that, in the absence of multilateral competition rules, trade remedies are the only thing we have that allows state distortions and other unfair practices to be addressed. Within the EU, we do not need anti-dumping or anti-subsidies law because we have really good competition and state aid law.

What we want from this legislation—you have to see the two Bills together—is a coherent, robust system that could redress those problems. In terms of this Bill, the composition of the members is very important to look at because, if all the members thought trade remedies were protectionist, we would never get any trade remedies through—or all members might believe that trade remedies were essential. You would want to ensure that there is some balance in there.

There are some other smaller issues that could be significant. For example, regarding the provision that the TRA should report to Parliament annually, I think there could be a little bit more detail on what it might report on, so that, if the TRA was being biased one way or the other, by being obliged to provide certain statistics, such as number of cases opened, measures adopted and so on, it could be assessed.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

Q Picking up on your last point, Mr Stevenson, in the EU, the Commission is obliged to report to the European Parliament on trade events, so there would be an annual production of just such statistics. There is a lacuna in the Bill in that there is no provision to make such a report to Parliament and to aid parliamentary scrutiny on trade remedies in that way. Is that something that you and the trade remedies alliance would seek to redress? Would you like to see introduced in this Bill some way in which a report ought to be made—an annual report perhaps—to Parliament?

Cliff Stevenson:

Yes, what would definitely be of importance is to have a substantial report submitted to Parliament on an annual basis. In the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, there is a provision on reporting. There is already a proposal for there to be an annual report. The EU anti-dumping regulation is quite specific about what the European Commission must report to the European Parliament in terms of the statistics it must provide. A little more detail ensuring that certain things were provided in this report would be useful.

Tom Reynolds:

The question about Parliament’s ongoing role with the Trade Remedies Authority is an interesting one, but so is Parliament’s role in setting up the rules for the system. The point made by Jude Kirton-Darling earlier on about the level of involvement of MEPs in scrutinising and offering amendments on, for instance, the new anti-dumping methodology and the TDI modernisation, which was mentioned, has been integral in improving that legislation from the Commission’s original proposals. I would be more comfortable if there was a more rigorous approach for parliamentarians to get involved in the setting of the rules for the system as well.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Q Can you describe what you think the authority should be comprised of? Who do you think should be on it?

Gareth Stace:

Do you mean the board?

Gareth Stace:

The board needs to represent interests. From my point of view, I would like to see someone from industry and someone from the trade unions on that board to provide that balance, clarity and expertise as well. That could be set out in primary legislation. It is not there now.

Tom Reynolds:

One of the most successful acts of Parliament in setting up a non-departmental public body over the years has been the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which stipulates that the Secretary of State, in making appointments to the commission—now the HSE board—must consult with organisations for three of the members. There could be representatives of the employers, and three of the representatives could be from the trade unions. That sort of model might lend itself well to the establishment of the Trade Remedies Authority and the appointments made to the non-exec board.

Gareth Stace:

However, we would not want anything that you would add to it that would then create more work and delay measures in place or delay the investigations that would take place by the authority.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Q That neatly moves me on to another question. Can you describe what is at stake if we do not get this right after we come out of the EU? If you have specific examples, that would be helpful.

Gareth Stace:

There is a whole range of “if we don’t get this right”. If we get this very wrong, we become the dumping ground—not just in Europe, but for the rest of the world. Think of the steel sector, which thrives on free, liberalised trade. That is what we are. Over a third of all steel produced travels across borders globally.

Also, something crucial, in particular for the steel sector, is that in 1994 we agreed as a sector with Governments to abolish all customs tariffs for steel for developed countries. There are no tariffs. So when you think about us coming out of the EU, whatever agreement or not is put in place, we as steel will not be subject to customs tariffs. That is not an issue for us—non-tariff barriers are an issue for us, but not tariff barriers. That enabled us to be even more liberalised in terms of trade. What supports that? Trade remedies support that: they are the safety valve that enables free trade to take place. Sometimes the debate turns the other way round, as if trade remedies were there to provide protectionism. We would say that if there were not a strong trade remedies regime in the UK or anywhere else in the world then you would see a rise in protectionism, with weak trade remedies.

There is a whole range of things that could go wrong. When the investigations take place in the end, will they find that there is no injury or dumping for whatever reason, even if there is? If they do find that there has been injury or dumping, what are the tariff levels that are set? Are they high enough to stop the illegal trade in the UK—the dumped steel that is against WTO rules? If the endgame is not that those tariffs are high enough, then we have a problem.

Tom Reynolds:

We have a very similar experience. We are a sector that thrives on international trade: we export over half a billion pounds’ worth of products each year. We are not protectionist. However, as the Government have rightly pointed out, free trade does not mean trade without rules, and unfortunately some of our trading partners do not play by those rules. Examples from our sector include cases involving tiles and tableware. In the case of tiles, imports rose from a fairly stable level of around £4 million worth of tiles a year from China up to 2004, and rocketed in less than a decade to over £30 million worth of imports from China. If you were to look at volume, it was an even sharper rise.

The European Union introduced anti-dumping measures in 2011, which were not enormous—they are not the 230% tariffs that the United States has looked at. They were between 13% for co-operating companies in China, up to just short of 70% for non-co-operating companies. The introduction of those measures allowed our UK industry to stabilise and invest. As a result, employment has gone up by 40% in the sector, with even further boosts to the supply chain as well. All that could be at risk if we get things wrong.

It is worth noting that in 2011 the UK Government voted against the tiles measures in Council. That was understandable because the UK’s role within the European Union was as a liberal counterweight across the 28 member states. As we forge an independent trade policy we have a different role, but some of the most experienced civil servants and experts are steeped in that heritage of the UK being the liberal counterweight within the European Union. That is why we come back to this point about a non-exec board being a watchdog, ensuring a balanced system in the UK. It is an integral part of getting things right.

Tom Reynolds:

It is not something that the BCC or the Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance has made a submission on; it is something that we would have to consider, and maybe we can write to the Committee.

Photo of Faisal Rashid Faisal Rashid Labour, Warrington South

Q The membership of the Trade Remedies Authority, which, according to the Trade Bill, is entirely at the discretion of the Secretary of State: do you think it is appropriate and effective? How does the proposed TRA compare to similar bodies in other countries?

Cliff Stevenson:

Obviously, the wording is not effective at the moment in terms of ensuring that there is a balanced composition of those members. If you look elsewhere and compare, the closest major trade remedy regime to the UK’s proposed system is Australia’s. It has a separate anti-dumping commission that works in a similar way to how the Trade Remedies Authority would work, but there is a big difference in the sense that it is headed up by one person, an anti-dumping commissioner: there is not a committee or a group of members in the way that is proposed for the UK.

One concern I slightly have with this is that it is an extra level of decision making. There is no detail on how the members might make a decision—whether they would vote if they disagreed—and that could hold up investigations, which are always subject to very severe time limits given the amount of work that has to be done.

In the US and Canada, for example, there are examples of independent bodies such as the United States International Trade Commission, which does the injury determination for the cases. It is a completely independent body that has six commissioners who vote at the end of the investigation. If there is a positive finding of injury and three out of six vote in favour, it will be an affirmative determination. In that case, where there is a quasi-judicial system where it is completely separate and not under any political control, there are these commissioners taking a vote on the basis of the technical information.

Gareth Stace:

You have to look at what the TRA and the whole system is trying to achieve. Why is it being set up? It is being set up because we are leaving the EU. Is that an opportunity to have a system that is fleet of foot, quite simple and employs fewer people than the European Commission does?

That is why a year ago we, as UK Steel, said that actually what this arm’s-length, independent body could be doing is just looking at the dumping margin, because that is a really simple, straightforward—almost—calculation. It is what they do in the US, which is seen as a champion of free trade, and we want to create strong links with the US going forward. There was that opportunity to do that, and so the make-up of the TRA and the committee would not be as important as if it was then doing the injury calculation—that is much more of a black box. You stick a load of numbers in, and you hope that something will come out. You twiddle some dials as well, and the tariffs come out of that. So you probably do then need some independent committee to look at it, but how much are they going to influence—[Interruption.]

Order. There is a Division in the House, so I suspend the Committee until 10 minutes past 4.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Welcome back. We are going to change the order of questioning slightly, because Mr Stace has to go and give evidence to our sister Bill Committee.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

Q Picking up on something you said earlier about the importance of not having a weak trade remedies regime, in your view would it be a mistake to think that such a regime, which did not protect producers’ interests, might encourage other countries to do easier, quicker trade deals with us? Would it be a mistake to use that in some sense as a bargaining chip to get a trade deal?

Gareth Stace:

I think it would. You are not going to say to the USA, “Hey look, can we do a really great free trade agreement with you? Look, our trade remedies is really weak and yours is really strong so can you weaken yours and then we will do a great deal?” They will not do that. They will keep their regime and hope that ours is weak, and they will then see more trade coming from them to us.

It is the same when we think about the zero tariff for steel with developed countries. When India exports steel to the UK, it is at zero tariff; when we supply steel to India a tariff is applied. So when we say to India, “Can we do a free trade agreement with you? Hey, you know, we could do zero tariff”, India will say, “We already have zero tariff, so why would we want to do anything else?” What would add something would be having a strong trade remedies regime in place.

If we had a weak regime, what would that mean? We talked about that before. It would mean a loss of jobs, and in the steel sector I do not want to talk about loss of jobs, because we saw a lot of that in 2015-16. But we would also see a rapid rise in imports. In rebar—reinforcing bar that goes into construction—in one year China had zero per cent. of the UK market. It did not import anything, and within four years, because there were no duties in place, China had 43% of the UK market. Then, once duties came in, the percentage went back to zero.

I know I have to go, but I want to make just one point about the lesser duty rule, which I am sure will be raised later. I know it is not in the Bill but it is very important, in that there is talk that if we did not have a lesser duty rule prices would rise and the consumer would be disadvantaged. Let me put that into context. In the hot-rolled flat case we had recently, the injury margin was 17.5% and the dumping margin was 29%. There is a difference there of 11%. If we think of a luxury car priced at €45,000, not applying the lesser duty rule in that case would increase the price of that car by a whopping €16.50. Everyone is saying that if we did not apply it in the UK it would be dreadful—consumer prices would rise and it would be awful—but €16 is all it would increase the price of a €45,000 car by.

Mr Stace, thank you very much indeed for doing two Committees in one afternoon. That is very noble work. Thank you for your evidence to us. I think someone is going to escort you off to the other Committee.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Q Unfortunately, my original question was to Mr Stace, but I will ask it to Mr Stevenson. Clause 6 of the Bill suggests that the TRA’s remit will extend to more than just trade remedies and to the analysis of trade disputes. Does that raise any concerns?

Cliff Stevenson:

In principle, I think it is not necessarily a bad idea—that if you have an organisation full of trade expertise, you might use it for other purposes as well. I mentioned Canada earlier. The Canadian international trade tribunal, the independent entity that makes determinations on injury, can also be given other tasks and produce expert reports. So I do not think it is a bad idea in principle that the TRA may do other things. The concern would be about resourcing.

Trade remedy investigations are highly resource-intensive. They are incredibly detailed. Gareth mentioned earlier about the dumping calculation being easy. In a sense, what he was saying is that it is straightforward, the steps are very clear—but it is a massive calculation with thousands of data entries on a spreadsheet or in a model. To the extent that there would be a concern, it would be to ensure that there was sufficient capacity ring-fenced for the different functions. Principally, it seems to me that the Trade Remedies Authority’s purpose is the administration of the trade remedy regime. That would be the only issue I would raise.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

We heard from Mr Stace a moment ago about an effective trade remedies system. In that one example, an effective system does not necessarily lead to higher consumer prices or significantly higher prices. Do you have other examples you can giveQ , Mr Reynolds?

Tom Reynolds:

One example I can give you is from MTRA partner sectors, the chemicals fertiliser sector, around the long-term implications for the consumer if adequate trade remedies are not installed. In Ireland, for instance, the domestic manufacturing industry for fertilisers sadly went by the wayside, because the anti-dumping measures were not introduced in time to provide a defence for their industry. As it became a less attractive market because of less competition, the prices started to rise for all the previously dumped exports, so the lack of competitive environment in Ireland ended up costing farmers more for their fertilisers.

Cliff Stevenson:

Obviously, it depends on the product, because when you are talking about products used in another industry, such as in the case of steel, even a fairly substantial anti-dumping duty, if you work it through to the final price to the retailer of the downstream product, is going to have a much smaller effect. Obviously, in the case of a consumer product, where the product goes directly to the consumer, the impact of the duty would be exactly at the level of the duty, so that is certainly true.

It is important always to consider what the purpose of trade remedies is. They are about remedying a distortion, an anti-competitive situation or a subsidy. In that way, any time you increase a duty the users, the importers, or the consumers of that product are going to face the negative impact of the increase in duty. What is really important to remember about trade remedies is that they are not about protecting domestic industry, I do not believe. They are about restoring effective competition. That is a key point. Even if a consumer product does increase in price, in the long term the consumer is better off if effective competition is maintained.

Are there any questions? No. May I thank you both very much for your very useful evidence? I am sorry that a Division disturbed the middle of your session—these things happen in Parliament. It was very kind of you to come, so thank you very much. If the next witnesses are here, perhaps they would like to take the stand.