The European Commission has backed a last ditch lobbying effort by Potteries ceramics firms and Lib Dem Euro MP Phil Bennion and imposed provisional anti-dumping duties on imports of ceramic tableware and kitchenware from China, from midnight last night.
The move follows a nine-month Commission investigation into claims by ceramics manufacturers, including Steelite of Stoke on Trent, that huge quantities of cheap Chinese products were being sold in the EU at artificially low prices.
The duties imposed range from 17.6 percent to 31.2 percent for Chinese companies that co-operated with the investigation and 58.8 percent duty on all other Chinese firms exporting cups, plates, saucers and other tableware and kitchenware into Britain and the EU.
The Commission move was unexpected and was made despite the opposition of 14 out of the 27 EU member states at a meeting of the Council of Ministers last month. West Midlands and Staffordshire MEP Phil Bennion took action after meeting a delegation of ceramics manufacturers in Stoke on Trent last month, including Kevin Oakes, CEO of Steelite International and representatives from Johnsons and Dudsons.
Since then the Lib Dem MEP has been lobbying Commissioner Karel de Gucht, UK Business Secretary VInce Cable, Trade Minister Lord Green and civil service teams strongly to back the move.
Phil Bennion said: "We believe in free trade but it has to be on a level playing field. This is a victory for fair trade.
"The evidence is overwhelming, China has been flooding the European market with goods at an artificially low price, in a way calculated to destroy European ceramics producers, including Steelite International and Johnsons in Staffordshire.
"This move only followed a last ditch effort to convince the Commission to press ahead despite a vote in the Council of Ministers against it.
"There will be a small rise in the price of Chinese tableware in the shops as a result but this only corrects the unfairly low price the goods were being sold at, which would only last until most EU manufacturers had either gone bankrupt or been taken over by Chinese companies.
"This is a victory for British ceramics producers and in the long run is good news for consumers, who deserve a genuine choice of table and kitchenware at fair prices, whichever country they are made in.
"But it is only a provisional move. The Council of Ministers of member states has six months to decide to confirm the anti-dumping measures and extend them up to five years. So our lobbying campaign of EU governments, including the British government, must continue.
"If the Council of Ministers refuses to back the move, the extra tariffs will have to be repaid to Chinese manufacturers. That would be a travesty, it is quite clear to me that World Trade Organisation rules on illegal dumping have been broken. The EU Commission has shown it is not a push-over and I am pleased Mr de Gucht listened to our case.
"British and Potteries manufacturers have been losing out to unfair competition. The EU must stand up for fair trade and send a message to global producers - we won't let you destroy our industries by cheating.
"The only way we can protect our manufacturers from dumping is by working within the EU. If we had just a bilateral relationship, Chinese producers could ignore us and keep on flooding our European export markets with dumped goods and still wipe out our industry."
China is now the biggest manufacturer of household ceramic goods in the world and sold $710m worth of china tableware and kitchenware into the EU last year - around 10% of its total production. Chinese exports now account for almost half of the entire European market for those products.
Over 2,000 Chinese manufacturers could be affected by the anti-dumping move. The EU decision follows a move to impose an 69% tariff on Chinese ceramic tiles for five years from last September and a move by Indonesia to impose an 87% charge on Chinese tableware, also citing artificially low prices.
• More than 70% of total world export volume of kitchen ceramics now originates in China. The average export prices from China are some 70% lower than average 2011 prices of all other countries exporting to the EU.
• This has led to more than 10,000 jobs in the ceramics sector have been lost over the last 5 years i.e. 30% job loss.
• More than €650 million loss of EU production over the last 5 years i.e. 45% loss.
• More than 110 EU factories have closed over the last 5 years.
• There has been a 260% growth of Chinese exports of Ceramic Table- and Kitchenware to the EU and loss of 56% of EU jobs in the sector since 2004.
• 2012 has been very tough with several further bankruptcies and a further loss of jobs in the EU.