US delays removal of UK tariffs on steel, aluminum due to post-Brexit fears

Containers are stacked at the Port of Felixstowe, Britain, January 28, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The US is skeptical over its plan to remove the tariffs on UK steel and aluminum and is delaying the trade deal due to London’s threats to change post-Brexit trading rules, which directly affects Northern Ireland (NI).

According to a report released by Financial Times on Wednesday, a US commerce department official was quoted as saying that talks with the UK on easing Trump-era metals tariffs could not move ahead, due to British threats to unilaterally trigger Article 16 of the NI protocol, which undermines the peace on the island of Ireland.

Article 16, which addresses emergency provisions, allows both the UK and the EU to suspend any part of the agreement that causes “economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade.”

The NI protocol was agreed as part of the Brexit deal to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. According to this protocol, NI remains in the EU’s single market for goods as well as in Great Britain’s market, creating a trade border between NI and Great Britain, which requires transitioning goods to be checked and controlled.

The EU has proposed measures to ease those checks, but the UK is demanding fundamental reforms.

The administration of former US President Donald Trump imposed 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports on the EU in 2018. The US agreed to suspend EU tariffs in October, but they remain in place for the UK, as it is no longer a member of the EU.

The UK Department of Trade responded in a statement on Thursday, "We do not see any connection with this particular issue and the Northern Ireland Protocol and it will in no way affect the UK's approach. That is because significant changes are needed to the Protocol in order to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and Northern Ireland's place in the UK internal market.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “I think it's important not to conflate those two issues.”

The spokesperson depicted the tariffs as being “damaging” to the UK economy and said, “On steel tariffs, we are working closely with the Biden administration.”

The development comes as the US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned earlier in September, that there could be no post-Brexit trade deal with Washington if the NI peace agreement was destroyed.

EU and UK representatives have held several meetings to talk about the issue but there hasn’t been any progress. Fears are growing that triggering Article 16 will potentially rupture the UK’s already strained relations with the EU.

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