THERESA MAY has come under fire for not challenging the Chinese over steel-dumping as she insisted UK is still enjoying a “golden era” in relations with Beijing.
Downing Street confirmed the Prime Minister did not raise China’s role in the collapse in steel prices in talks with President Xi Jinping or the UK Government’s continued hesitation over the go-ahead Hinkley Point nuclear reactor project which is backed by Chinese investment.
Steel-dumping has been blamed for the crisis facing the UK industry which has seen Tata Steel threaten to pull out of its UK operations leaving thousands of jobs, including at sites in Yorkshire, at risk.
However, Mrs May insisted the G20 summit in Hangzhou had led to measures which could help tackle the problem.
The Prime Minister said nations had “agreed to work together to address the causes of excess production, including in the steel market, and we will establish a new forum to discuss issues such as subsidies that contribute to market distortions.
“It is vital that we deliver action in all these areas if we are to retain support for free trade and the open economies which are the bedrock of global growth.”
Chinese over-production of steel that is subsequently dumped on European markets has been blamed for depressing prices.
Explaining Mrs May’s failure to raise the issue directly with president Xi, a Number 10 official said: “It wasn’t an issue that came up. We addressed that sort of area in the G20 in broader discussions and this was an opportunity to talk more about bilateral economic and trading relationships.”
Baroness Burt, Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on business, said: “It is disgraceful that Theresa May failed to raise the issue of steel exports with the Chinese. Thousands of jobs at Port Talbot and across our steel industry are facing an uncertain future thanks to the dumping of steel on the EU market by China.
“It was the Conservative government who blocked EU plans to stop this practice, but now we are leaving the EU our new Prime Minister doesn’t even think it’s worth mentioning.”
Britain’s relations with Beijing have come under strain over the failure of the Government to give the go-ahead to the Hinkley Point C reactor project amid reports of the Prime Minister’s concern at the role of Chinese investment.
Her caution stands in stark contrast to the enthusiasm of her predecessor and former chancellor George Osborne over the “golden era” in ties between the two countries.
However, speaking ahead of her meeting with President Xi, Mrs May insisted the “golden era” continues.
“A decision about Hinkley will be made later this month, but our relationship with China is about more than Hinkley.
“If you look at the investment that there has been from China in various other parts of the UK and other infrastructure in the UK, we have built a global strategic partnership with China.
“I’ve been clear we will be continuing that global strategic partnership with China. It is a golden era of relations between China and the UK.”
A Number 10 official later said President Xi understood why Mrs May felt the need to take a fresh look at agreements made by her predecessor.
Although Hinkley Point was not specifically mentioned he said “he recognised the new Government would need to take some time before reaching decisions on some agreements pushed by the last government”, the source said.
“President Xi said that they had the patience to wait for a resolution on those issues.
The Prime Minister is due to return in time for Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.