Clause 73 - Transitioned trade remedies: decisions by Secretary of State

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 5 January 2022.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The clause gives the Secretary of State for International Trade the power to call in and take control of reviews of trade remedies measures transitioned from the EU. This ensures that the Government can effectively take steps to prevent harm to UK industry where there is evidence of unfair competition.

Trade remedies are additional tariffs or tariff-rate quotas temporarily imposed to protect domestic industries from dumped or subsidised imports or unforeseen surges in imports. At the end of the transition period, the Government transitioned 43 of the EU’s trade remedy measures. The Trade Remedies Authority is now reviewing the transitioned measures to assess whether their continuation is suitable for the UK economy. The TRA is responsible for collecting and analysing evidence relating to trade remedies cases, and it currently makes recommendations to the Secretary of State for International Trade on whether particular measures should be revoked or varied or, in certain cases, retained or replaced. The Secretary of State can only accept or reject a TRA recommendation in its entirety.

The current framework was introduced in 2018. Since then, it has become clear that in some circumstances, greater ministerial involvement in decision making is required. The call-in power is designed to address that. It will allow the Secretary of State to call in a case if she considers it necessary. For example, she will be able to take a closer look at an individual case if needed in the wider public interest. The intention is that the Secretary of State will continue to rely on the expertise of the TRA to collect and analyse evidence, but that it will do so under her direction.

Whether a case is called in or not, the process will continue to be robust, transparent and evidence based, but the power will allow the Secretary of State greater flexibility in decision making than our legislation currently allows. The call-in power will apply only to transition reviews, and where the TRA is reconsidering its previous conclusions from a transition review. In parallel, the Government are considering wider changes to the trade remedies framework to ensure that it can consistently defend UK industry. That is separate from the limited scope of this clause, and the International Trade Secretary will report on the findings of that review in due course.

The changes made by clause 73 will amend the trade remedies regime to allow the Secretary of State for International Trade to call in transition reviews and reconsiderations of transition reviews conducted by the TRA. After calling in a case, the Secretary of State will be responsible for determining the outcome of that review or reconsideration. That will ensure that the Secretary of State can have greater oversight and involvement in a particular transition review or reconsideration of a transition review as appropriate, and therefore the ability to decide on appropriate measures, such as varying the tariffs that apply to particular products under the UK’s trade remedies framework.

Where this power is exercised, the Secretary of State need not necessarily base their decision on a prior recommendation or decision of the TRA. The Secretary of State will be required to publish the notice of a decision made under this clause. The Government will make secondary legislation to set out in more detail how the call-in power is to be exercised.

In summary, clause 73 will help to prevent injury to UK industry by empowering the Secretary of State to call in transitional reviews where appropriate, and give her control to determine the outcome of a particular transition review or reconsideration of a transition review. Such a determination may include retaining, varying, revoking or replacing the trade remedies already in place on the goods subject to the review.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

This important clause relates to trade remedies. As we have heard, it allows Ministers to override the powers of the Trade Remedies Authority in order to maintain safeguard tariffs on cheap imports that unfairly undermine UK industry.

The clause’s introduction was prompted by the row over the TRA’s proposals to get rid of tariffs on cheap steel imports. In June last year, the TRA recommended the removal of limits inherited from the EU on about half of the UK’s steel imports. Slashing those safeguards and opening the floodgates to cheap steel imports would have been devastating for steel plants across our country and damaging for our wider economy. At the time, the director general of UK Steel said:

“On their first major test in a post-Brexit trading environment, the UK’s new system has failed our domestic steel sector.”

The Government U-turned on that decision after pressure from Labour and the industry, and belatedly maintained protections for the steel industry. Obviously, however, there are concerns about future TRA decisions, so we support the clause. Indeed, Labour campaigned for the Government to take more action to support our vital steel industry.

I ask the Minister to expand on subsection (5), which allows the Secretary of State to make regulations regarding how to make decisions on transitioned trade remedies. Will she set out what sort of regulations she envisages that the Secretary of State will make and how those decisions will be made? It is important that there is a transparent process for making these important decisions on trade remedies.

Finally, although we welcome this measure and hope that it ensures that vital British industries are better protected in the future, we remain concerned about the Government’s wider failure to support British industry. Industries such as steel are of vital strategic importance for our economic prosperity and national security, but the Government’s lack of an industrial strategy means that the steel industry is lurching from crisis to crisis. We need a proper plan to decarbonise the sector, to boost business competitiveness and to use British steel in UK infrastructure projects, in order to safeguard the future of the steel industry, as Labour’s plans to buy, make and sell in Britain would do.

Labour would also invest up to £3 billion over the coming decade in greening the steel industry. We would work with steelmakers to secure a proud future for the industry to match the proud past and present of British steel communities. I urge the Government to do the same.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I did not want to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I think she has gone outside the remit of the measures in the Bill. However, I would like to correct her on a point—[Interruption.] She was talking about the steel industry as a whole, when we are dealing with a provision that relates in particular to the power of the Secretary of State to call in trade remedies.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Order. I will allow some leeway for reasonable debate, and if anyone goes out of order, I will stop them. The Minister should feel free to make some general comments, so long as they are not too long and do not stray too far.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

That is very kind, Dame Angela. I want to correct a general point that the hon. Lady made in relation to steel and the decision that was made by the then Secretary of State for International Trade. The hon. Lady suggested that there was a U-turn and that pressure was put on by the Labour party. In fact, there was no decision by the Government; the decision was made by the Trade Remedies Authority. I just wanted to clarify that point.

The hon. Lady also talked about support for industry. In making that decision there was, of course, support for the steel industry, but we know that the Chancellor has supported industry in a broad sense, with £400 billion coming into the economy to protect businesses, large and small, across the country over the last 18 months.

The hon. Lady made a specific point about how the regulations will be used, and I will get back to her on that issue in writing.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 73 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.