European Union ministers didn’t reach an agreement about anti-dumping measures to protect the struggling European steel-making sector against cheap imports from China.
During a meeting of economy and industry ministers in Brussels summoned by UK business minister Sajid Javid, the participants agreed about the severity of the situation and proposed to hold a conference to discuss the possible action to be taken later this year.
However, for representatives of the industry that has seen 5,000 jobs cut across Europe over the past three months, the outcome was less than satisfying.
"Steelworkers whose jobs are at risk and who are seeing the impact of the dumping of cheap steel will take very little comfort from the conclusions of today's meeting,” said Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union.
"We need action now and would have at least expected a clear statement of intent from the meeting that they will speed up reform of trade defence instruments or introduce other measures so that European steel producers are better protected from dumping.”
Prices of Chinese steel exports have fallen by 40 per cent last year according to EU steel body Eurofer.
China, the world’s largest steel producer, has seen an economic slowdown over the past year, forcing Chinese steel-makers to find markets for their products elsewhere.
"China's steel market is loss-making, so how can prices fall? These losses must be covered by subsidies or other measures," Tata Steel Europe head, Karl-Ulrich Koehler, said.
EU steel executives want the European Commission to cut the time it takes to impose duties and restore a system of monitoring steel import volumes and prices, making trade cases easier to mount and possibly acting as a deterrent in itself.
Robrecht Himpe, Eurofer president and chief technology officer of ArcelorMittal, said the EU took more than a year to put duties in place, rendering them obsolete in such a fast-moving market.
UK business minister Javid commented: "I called for these talks and they have helped to place the challenges facing the steel industry right at the top of the agenda in Brussels.
"More still needs to be done at home and with our partners in Europe, but we now have encouraging and important commitments to speed up the European Commission's work on unfair trade practices and ensure the effectiveness of state aid rules."
Eurofer has said that EU demand for steel could grow by 1.5 per cent this year, but that third country suppliers rather than domestic producers would be the main beneficiaries.
In October, Tata Steel announced it would cut 1,200 jobs in its plants in Britain as it fails to keep up with its Chinese competitors. Earlier that month, SSI decided to close coke ovens and furnaces in its Redcar steel plant after no buyer for the indebted facility has been found. The move will result in a loss of more than 2,200 jobs.