The government has given its first sign of how it could manage the rules on imports coming into the UK after Brexit.
In its most eye-catching announcement, it has confirmed that it will still block China from “dumping” cheap steel on the British market.
It has announced plans to deal with so-called trade remedies – extra tariffs that are put on products being imported into the European Union because of suspicions that they have benefited from unfair support.
It will mean existing tariffs being maintained on cheap imports, such as Chinese steel and ceramics, in order to protect British industries from the threat of cut-price competition.
The British government, like the EU, maintains that the Chinese steel industry benefits from unfair state subsidies that allow products to be sold below their actual value.
In total, Britain will keep 43 of these remedies, with International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox saying the products ranged from “ironing boards to aluminium foil”.
UK Steel, which represents the steel industry, said it “warmly welcomed” the announcement that anti-dumping tariffs would remain in place “ensuring we do not become the dumping ground of Europe”.
It said: “Wherever we can bring down prices, we will continue to do so.
“We will cut tariffs where we can because tariffs are taxes. It is an act of economic liberation.”
However, the organisation’s director, Gareth Stace, added: “this is not to suggest that the we believe the UK is adequately prepared to take on full responsibility for trade remedies in a month’s time”.
As well as Chinese steel, the products that will continue to face levies include rainbow trout from Turkey, bioethanol from America and iron products from countries ranging from Ukraine to Iran.
At the same time, the government has said it will opt out of some EU trade remedies, such as lifting a tariff on sweetcorn being imported from Thailand, or solar glass from China.
In each case the government has decided that cheap imports don’t affect British businesses significantly but do raise costs for British consumers.
Those products include sweeteners and Chinese citrus fruit.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Dr Fox said the ability to control tariffs was “one of the real advantages of leaving the European Union”.
There was a lukewarm reception from one of the industries that he talked about.
Laura Cohen, chief executive of the British Ceramic Confederation, said she was still worried that, even if the remedy levies remained, the government would end up cutting tariffs on ceramic products to zero.
She said: “We still do not know what they are going to do with those underlying, most favoured nation tariffs, onto which trade remedies are added.
“If the government drops these to zero in a no-deal Brexit, then ceramic tiles and tableware, and many thousands of other goods manufactured in this country will be in jeopardy, because a flood of imports will cause untold damage to our domestic markets.
“We are proud British manufacturers and this is a moment for our government to stand up for our manufacturing, rather than give a leg up to foreign businesses.”
The government is still in the process of setting up a group, called the Trade Remedies Authority, which will carry out reviews into an array of products.
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