Tony Burke: Why the Customs bill must be amended

On 8 January, the House of Commons will give the Customs bill (“The Trade Bill & Taxation (Cross Border Trade) Bill” its second reading. Although there has been minimal media coverage in the mainstream press, one reason that parliament must get the legislation right is that it will establish the UK’s post-Brexit “trade remedies”.

Trade remedies are vitally important; as they are the only way we can tackle unfairly dumped imports such as steel, chemicals, ceramics and tyres from countries such as China.

Unfortunately, in its current form the bill does not set up post-Brexit trade remedies that will be effective in protecting UK manufacturing jobs.

The legislation doesn’t state how non-market economies like China will be handled in trade investigations.

It’s also silent about how UK trade remedies will uphold international labour and environmental standards.

It includes a ‘lesser duty rule’, which will in many cases result in lower anti-dumping duties than the actual level of dumping. Incredibly, it also provides the government with the opportunity to reject measures when dumping or subsidy is proven through an ill defined ‘Economic Interest Test’ and completely undefined ‘Public Interest Test’.

Combined, these shortcomings mean the bill will produce one of the world’s weakest trade remedy systems.

This will put many thousands of high quality jobs in manufacturing are at risk across the country.

Instead of free trade, the customs bill will create a free-for-all.

These problems could be easily rectified if the government is prepared to listen.

Unite and our partners in the Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance (GMB, Community, the TUC and employers trade bodies including Steel, Chemicals, Glass, Ceramics, Papermaking, Agricultural Industries and Mineral Products) have written to the Secretary of State and MPs with constructive suggestions for amendments to the bill.

These changes could dramatically improve it and provide the level playing field for our UK manufacturing industries.

We need strong anti-dumping measures that will protect thousands of decent jobs.

We also need a Trade Remedies Authority consisting of manufacturers and representatives of trade unions with the ability to bring complaints of unfair practices and dumping.

For Unite members and workers in manufacturing this is too an important an issue for the Government to carry on regardless.