UK Business Secretary postpones Iran trip to focus on steel crisis

Britain's Business Secretary Sajid Javid leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Britain April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

LONDON (Reuters) - Business Secretary Sajid Javid has postponed a major trade visit to Iran to focus on the future of Britain’s steel industry, a spokesman from the business department said on Tuesday, as the government tries to save thousands of steelworkers’ jobs.

In March, India's Tata group TISC.NS announced plans to sell its entire UK steel operation, leaving the government battling to rescue an industry that has been hurt by cheap Chinese imports, soaring costs and weak demand.

“Given the Business Secretary’s focus on the steel industry, he has decided to postpone his trip to Iran,” the spokesman said. “He remains committed to exploring the opportunities for trade and investment with this emerging market.”

The trip would take place at a later date, the spokesman said.

Javid has faced heavy criticism over his handling of the Tata sale, which was announced while he was on an official visit to Australia, forcing him to rush back to Britain to reassure the company’s thousands of employees.

He had planned to travel to Tehran this month on what would have been the biggest British trade delegation to Iran since the lifting of international sanctions in January.

Other European Union countries including Italy, France and Germany have already struck billions of dollars worth of deals and many within Britain’s business community complain that the UK has been slower to respond.

Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison