There are growing indications that the EU will confirm anti-dumping duties on imports of ceramic tableware and kitchenware from China for five years, marking victory for Potteries ceramics firms and local Lib Dem Euro MP Phil Bennion.
The European Commission imposed provisional anti-dumping duties of up to 58% on Chinese tableware imports last November after an investigation upheld claims by manufacturers, including Steelite of Stoke on Trent, that huge quantities of Chinese products were being sold in the EU at artificially low prices.
The duties, which were provisional, need to be confirmed by May 15th by the Council of Ministers, which previously opposed the moves. But it is understood that after months of international lobbying by Phil Bennion, Steelite and a number of industry representatives, a majority of EU member state representatives at a meeting of the anti-dumping committee agreed for the duties to continue for five years at a reduced though still significant rate of between 13 and 36%.
Phil Bennion and Phil Ray from Steelite met officials from Vince Cable's BIS department in London and succeeded in persuading them to change Britain's stance and support the extension of duties for five years at a lower level.
The Commission has yet to formally publish a proposal and Council then has to adopt it before the expiry on 15th May but the Council vote is expected to be a formality, approving the deal agreed in the anti-dumping committee.
The duties are paid by the importer rather than the exporter, and the duties now agreed are at a lower level than the provisional ones already in force since November. As a result UK importers of Chinese ceramics will get a rebate of any duties they have so far overpaid, which would otherwise have gone largely into the EU budget.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Phil Bennion said:
"It seems that after sustained lobbying, we have persuaded a majority of EU governments to back the Commission that we must confirm action to stop unfair competition in kitchen and tableware.
"The duties are now at a lower level, as we suggested, which was crucial in persuading Vince Cable and BIS to change their stance.
"This will be a significant boost for European ceramics producers employing thousands of workers, many based in the Potteries and in the Midlands, and will encourage a level playing field in the global market.
"The Commission has made the right call and the Member States are right to approve this lower level duty. The EU is about free trade but it must also be fair trade."
The move marks a significant turnaround since the Commission action to impose provisional anti-dumping duties in November, which was made despite the opposition of 14 out of the 27 EU member states.
West Midlands and Staffordshire Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion took action and lobbied Commissioner de Gucht to introduce the provisional duties after meeting a delegation of ceramics manufacturers in Stoke on Trent, including Kevin Oakes, CEO of Steelite International and representatives from Dudsons and Crown Derby (now part of Steelite). Since then the MEP and Kevin Oakes and Phil Ray from Steelite have been lobbying governments and industry representatives across Europe to confirm the Commission action.
Phil Bennion added:
"The evidence is overwhelming, China has been flooding the European market with goods at artificially low prices, in a way calculated to destroy European ceramics producers, including Steelite International in Staffordshire.
"The higher price of Chinese tableware in the shops 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 but also for consumers, who deserve a genuine choice of table and kitchenware at fair prices, whichever country they are made in.
"World Trade Organisation rules on illegal dumping have been broken and now the EU is taking the right response, protecting our producers from being driven out of business by predatory pricing.
"The only way we can fight dumping is by working within the EU. If we had just a bilateral relationship and were not in the EU, Chinese producers could ignore us and keep on flooding our European export markets with dumped goods and still wipe out our industry."
Notes: The original decision notice can be found here: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2012/november/tradoc_150091.prov.en.L318-2012.pdf.
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.
• 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.
Press release from 5 April: Cerame Unie – European Ceramic Industry Association
The European Commission imposed provisional anti-dumping duties against imports of ceramic tableware and kitchenware originating in China on 15 November 2012. The duties, imposed for a period of 6 months, i.e. until mid-May, range from 17.6% to 31.2% for all the Chinese companies that cooperated with the Commission's investigation. A residual duty of 58.8% applies to other Chinese companies that chose not to cooperate.
In March 2013, the European Commission informed interested parties and EU Member States of its proposal to impose definitive anti-dumping duties between 13.1% and 23.4% for cooperating Chinese companies (representing around 400 companies) and 36.1% for non-cooperating companies. We understand that the Commission’s proposal is supported by a majority of EU Member States representing at least 70% of the EU population.
Should it be confirmed, European ceramic tableware and kitchenware producers would highly welcome the imposition of definitive antidumping duties for a period of 5 years, as it is stressed already in the position of the European ceramic industry's position paper of 4 March 2013. Definitive trade measures are expected to be adopted by the EU Member States, taking effect in mid-May 2013.