Pottery manufacturers have welcomed the decision to retain tariffs for some ceramic products – but industry leaders say they still need more protection from cheap imports.
The government has announced its UK Global Tariff Regime, which will replace the EU’s Common External Tariff when the Brexit transition period ends on January 1.
Import tariffs for most products will be reduced and simplified under the new system, but following lobbying by the industry the existing tariffs will be retained on some ceramics.
Certain types of tableware, for example, will retain a 12 per cent tariff, meaning domestic producers in Stoke-on-Trent and elsewhere will continue to be protected from cheaper foreign imports.
But the British Ceramic Confederation says the new regime does not go far enough in protecting UK manufacturers, with the ‘vast majority’ of tariffs being cut, including those on tiles and other types of tableware.
BCC chief executive Laura Cohen fears increased competition from abroad will further damage an industry already reeling from the Covid-19 crisis.
She said: “We are relieved that government has listened to and acted on some of our concerns.
“Our members have told us time and time again they want current import tariffs maintained for all ceramic products they make in the UK.
“It is therefore pleasing to see government has retained a handful of current import tariffs at the current level, such as on bricks and some tableware. However, they have reduced the vast majority of the import tariffs on many products our members make.
“Unfortunately, this includes nearly all products with anti-dumping measures in place, including tiles and most of the tableware codes. Government has also cut tariffs to zero on some refractory and technical ceramic products.
“This has been a challenging period for our members, who have been trying to keep employees safe while product demand has often collapsed.
“Some of our members, as a result of this announcement, will be operating in the face of fiercer competition from overseas from next year at the time they are needed to boost Britain’s recovery.
“Zero or reduced import tariffs act as a ‘double whammy’ flooding our market with cheap imports while our manufacturers continue to pay export tariffs to many markets. Moreover, they weaken our hand doing trade deals.
“Our manufacturers, often making specialist and unique products, are a key part of very many complex supply chains including construction, healthcare, food and drink, aerospace, automotive and process industries. Their factories are at the heart of many British towns and communities. It is vital government looks after these valued businesses and jobs.”
Jason Simms and Andy Tooth, directors of Trentham-based Heraldic Pottery, welcomed the new tariff regime, saying it would help protect their business.
Their company specialises in the custom printing of fine bone china products such as plates, mugs and teapots.
Jason said: “Having worked in ceramics for decades, including 22 years running our own business, we have experienced the many highs and lows which the industry has gone through.
“One thing which hasn’t changed is the quality of the products our region produces. We are delighted that this has been recognised in the new tariff, and it gives us the confidence to keep producing our wares safe in the knowledge that we aren’t being undercut by cheap, inferior imports.”
The government says it has taken a ‘common sense’ approach to the new tariff schedule, with nearly 6,000 tariff lines being streamlined and simplified.
This will include the abolition of all tariffs under two per cent – labelled ‘nuisance tariffs’ by the government.
Ministers say the new regime will reduce costs for UK business and consumers, cut red tape and boost the economy.
Zero tariffs will mean cheaper prices on a range of products including dishwashers, scissors and Christmas trees.
The decision over ceramic tariffs has been welcomed by Stoke-on-Trent’s three Conservative MPs.
Jack Brereton, MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, said: “Our terrific ceramics manufacturers produce world-class goods, with a quality which comes from generations of specialist knowledge and skills.
“Free trade is good for consumers and is a huge opportunity to sell more of the world-class product we produce, but it was clear that ceramics needed extra protection from the dumping of second-rate products on our market by China and other countries.
2I’m delighted the government has listened to us, and that our industry has got the protection it deserves.”
Jo Gideon, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, said: “As the natural home for ceramics, this announcement will strengthen Stoke-on-Trent’s place as a business leader and will provide welcome assurance for workers employed in the industry at the heart of our potteries economy.
“In answer to my question in the House of Commons yesterday, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove said there will be ‘new opportunities’ for the ceramics sector. The government are taking notice of Stoke-on-Trent and our successful ceramics industry, which is an extremely positive sign for our future possibilities.”
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis said: “Stoke-on-Trent is synonymous with ceramics, interwoven throughout history you can hardly mention one without the other.
“When I became the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, the protection and expansion of this industry became fundamental to my work as a representative.
“I am glad to see the Government unashamedly supporting British potteries by retaining tariffs on ceramic imports, ensuring the market remains of the highest calibre and protecting the industry from second class imported products.”