EU countries back tighter controls on steel imports

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU governments approved limits to steel quotas on Wednesday designed to protect European manufacturers from the threat of surging imports following the effective closure of the U.S. market.

A large majority of EU countries voted to back changes proposed by the European Commission, EU diplomats said.

The bloc has had in place for a year as system of “safeguard” measures to control the incoming steel following Washington’s imposition of 25% steel import tariffs.

Quotas for 26 grades of steel, including stainless, were set at the average level of imports in 2015-2017 plus 5%, with further 5% hikes due in July and in July 2020. Imports of steel beyond these quotas are subject to a 25% duty.

The Commission has proposed that this year’s hike should be 3% effective from Oct. 1, responding to industry complaints that a weak market cannot absorb increasing imports.

EU steel association Eurofer estimates apparent steel consumption, which includes inventory changes, will fall by 0.6% this year and rise by 1.4% in 2020.

Last year, Eurofer said, imports of finished steel products rose by 12% in a market that grew by 3.3%.

The revised measures also involve limiting any one country to a 30% share of imports of hot-rolled flat steel during a quarter.

It has also extended the measures to more products from developing countries, some of which had been exempt.

Analysts say the revisions could have an impact on imports from Turkey and of stainless steel from Indonesia.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by David Evans