The UK will begin a push to get Joe Biden to ditch Donald Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs on British manufacturers, after the US today moved to de-escalate a long-running transatlantic trade dispute.
The government is hoping the US’ decision to suspend a raft of tariffs on British goods, like Scotch whisky and Stilton cheese, as a part of a 16-year dispute between Airbus and Boeing will be followed by a move to dump Trump’s controversial steel tariffs on the UK.
Trump introduced a 25 per cent tariff on steel exports and a 10 per cent tariff on aluminium exports from the EU, Mexico and Canada in 2018.
The UK is still subject to the tariffs, despite its exit from the EU’s single market and customs union.
A source close to international trade secretary Liz Truss said today’s announcement should provide a “springboard” for the US to scrap the steel tariffs as the UK government begins to deal with Biden’s new trade boss Katherine Tai.
“The tariffs were brought in on the grounds of national security and I don’t think anyone thinks the UK steel industry is a security threat to the US,” the source said.
The tariffs, which were introduced on US allies as a part of Trump’s protectionist trade agenda, dented the UK’s steel industry, which sent £360m worth of exports to the US in 2017.
The UK retaliated with its own tariffs, however Truss said in January she wanted to de-escalate the dispute.
One Department of International trade source said the tariffs were “completely unfair and unnecessary”.
“Tit for tat tariffs on both sides are ultimately in no-one’s interest,” they said.
Trump’s White House said the trade barriers were required for national security reasons, however the policy was widely thought to be a part of the ex-president’s attempt to boost US manufacturing.
Data shows the tariffs drove up the price of steel in the US and in turn dented the bottom line of domestic manufacturers.
Sam Lowe, trade expert at the The Centre for European Reform think tank, said the Biden administration would soon have to conduct a wider discussion about how it deals with Trump-era trade policies.
“It is possible the UK gets excluded from the [steel tariffs], but the US has to have that conversation themselves,” he said.
“I don’t think Biden will get rid of them entirely, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were left on China, but the conversation will be whether they get rid of them for key allies like the UK.”
The renewed optimism from the Truss camp about its future dealings with the US government comes after the Biden administration moved to slash punitive tariffs on a range of British goods today.
The US levelled tariffs on several European countries in 2019 – after permission from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – as a part of a dispute between Airbus and Boeing and the subsidies they had received from respective governments.
This included tariffs on billions of pounds of British products, such as whisky, cheese, salmon, pork products and cashmere.
The UK had also levelled tariffs against the US as a part of the dispute, however Truss unilaterally decided to suspend them earlier this year in a “show of good faith”.
Today’s announcement came just days after Biden’s new US Trade Representative Katherine Tai had her first Senate confirmation hearings.
Lowe said he was surprised Truss was able to get Biden’s administration to suspend the Scotch whisky tariffs so soon after inauguration day.
“It’s really early days – they haven’t even got all there people in yet,” he said.
“The fact the UK has managed to get a temporary resolution on this is something the Department for Internatioal Trade should be commended for.”