Following today’s Foreign Affairs Council on Trade, David Martin, Labour MEP for Scotland and International Trade Spokesperson for the Socialists and Democrats, said:
Following a publication from the European Commission Communication on the need to reform the EU trade defence instruments (TDIs), today the heads of governments meeting in Brussels acknowledged that unfair trade practices need to be tackled better.
David Martin MEP is calling on the European Commission and EU ministers to block full Market Economy Status (MES) for China unless it stops dumping cheap steel on to the market.
As readers of the Caithness Courier are most likely aware, the European steel sector is in crisis. Sites are closing and thousands of well paid, highly-skilled jobs are being lost. While the steel industry believes this is the result of a combination of factors, there is no doubt that the greatest of these is a global steel market saturated with overcapacity and prices being driven down to unsustainable levels. Since September 2015 over 270 skilled jobs in the steel industry have been lost in Scotland, as well as many more UK and EU-wide. Across Europe there are over 40,000 fewer jobs in the steel industry compared to 2007.
After several decades of dramatic growth, the economy of China, the world's biggest steel producer, is experiencing a slowdown. With less demand in their own country, Chinese producers have been looking further afield for export markets, such as the EU, and this is resulting in the "dumping" of their steel products. This means selling them at less than the cost of production, and is considered unfair competition. The EU and China have already clashed over the alleged dumping of products such as wine and solar panels. Other sectors at risk include aluminium, bicycles, ceramics, glass, car parts and paper.
A key issue in understanding world trade with China is its ‘Market Economy Status’. In 2001, although welcomed as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), China was considered to be a 'non-market economy’ because of the way that the Chinese government interfered in their economy. The pricing of their goods just could not be trusted. This status was set to last for fifteen years and in November this year is up for reassessment. The granting of this status will mean trading nations will be less able to demand legal protection from further dumping. Much more work needs to be done on the impact of this change of status.
The Socialists & Democrats (S&D) Group in the European Parliament, for which I am the spokesperson for trade, earlier this month (March) adopted a positon paper sending a strong signal to the European Commission and Council of Ministers that whilst there may be economic benefits of greater co-operation with China, the world's largest trading nation, Europe must not be a soft touch. A united Europe should not be afraid to use the all the tools at its disposal to protect its industries. Our Group are demanding real engagement from the Commission to reassure European industry and workers that the EU will be properly equipped to deal with global overcapacity and the dumping on our market of Chinese goods after the end of this year.
The EU has the ability to protect our economy against this unfair trade. This is why it is extremely disappointing to see our own UK government blocking any strengthening of current EU trade defence instruments. It is not protectionist to want adequate protection from unfair competition and we urgently need updated trade defence instruments to ensure this.
The troubling news from Port Talbot and other key steelmaking communities across Britain can hardly be described as a wake-up call. British production of steel has been steadily declining over the last decades and in 2015 over 5,000 jobs were lost in this sector, including 250 in Motherwell and Cambuslang. However, Tata Steel's decision to sell off its British operations could well be the final nail in the coffin for this once proud industry.
Rise in zero-hours contracts highlights need for urgent action
Labour MEPs in Strasbourg this week (7-10 March) again called for urgent action to tackle zero-hours contracts, following the latest figures showing a rise in their usage in the UK. 801,000 people in the UK were employed on a zero-hours contract between October-December 2015, up from 697,000 for the same period in 2014 - a 15 per cent rise.
I and my fellow Labour MEPs have long been calling for action on zero-hours contracts, and leading the European Parliament's calls for action. The European Commission needs to act now to tackle the problems of insecure employment, youth unemployment and poor wages, and urgently come up with policies. This is what the EU should be doing, working with national governments to strengthen workers' rights and clamp down on these unfair practices.
Far too many employers are using exploitative zero-hour contracts without a thought of the negative consequences they have on people's lives. If you work regular hours, you should have a regular contract - everyone deserves to be in quality employment and employers have a responsibility to ensure their employees are protected in the workplace.
All workers deserve adequate wages, social security protection and decent workplace conditions. Labour MEPs will continue to fight for quality jobs with job security in the UK and across the EU.
Standing up to China for a fair playing field for our industries
In February I called on the European Commission and the UK government to use China's rise to market economy status (MES) by the end of 2016 as an opportunity to pressure the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to demand Beijing plays fair and stops uncompetitive practices like the dumping of steel, which is crushing Britain's steel industry. The Commission has had 15 years to address this problem. We are running out of time and we must see real engagement from the Commission to reassure European industry and workers that the EU will be properly equipped to deal with global overcapacity and dumping on our market after the end of this year.
We cannot allow China to solve its overcapacity by dumping on the European market causing devastating effects on industrial communities across Britain. The EU has the ability to protect our economy against this unfair trade. It's not protectionist to want adequate protection from unfair competition - we urgently need updated trade defence instruments to ensure this. It is outrageous that the UK government is blocking any strengthening of current EU trade defence instruments, and is even contemplating giving China a permanent permit to dump.
Commission presents new proposal on posted workers
During this week’s Strasbourg Plenary (7-10 March) the European Parliament debated new proposed and revised rules for posted workers – workers who are employed in one Member State and temporarily sent to work in another.
The Commission’s proposed revision was for posted workers to be legally entitled to the same pay as local host country workers, rather than only to the host country's minimum wage. There is concern that this can create wage differences between posted and local workers and potentially lead to unfair competition between companies. The Commission also proposed that workers posted for longer than two years should be deemed to have been integrated into the host labour market, so as to prevent abuses such as employing them under less favourable social conditions.
Labour MEPs broadly welcomed the Commission's proposals for pay equality but called for more to be done to close loopholes and create a truly fair system. While the proposals are welcome they don't go far enough, and work will be needed to strengthen them when the plans come before MEPs. Labour MEPs believe posted workers should benefit from the protection of the collective agreements that are actually applied in the host country. The Commission failed to ensure posted workers would benefit from collective bargaining.
Present legislation dates from 1996 and since then the EU labour market has changed with the ratio of the lowest to highest national minimum wages in member states increasing from 1:3 in 1996 to 1:10 today. If equal pay for equal work is to mean anything, it means people receiving the same rates of pay regardless of where they're from, and irrespective of whether they're temporary or not - we cannot allow companies to get away with exploiting workers and undercutting wages.
Trade in Services agreement must protect public services and protect workers’ rights
I and my fellow Labour MEPs voted in February for the exemption of public services, protection of workers' rights and greater transparency and data protection in the EU Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).
The European Parliament was voting on a resolution setting out a series of demands from MEPs to the European Commission, which is negotiating TiSA on behalf of EU national governments. These include the full exclusion of all public services; strong safeguards for workers; a new binding clause to guarantee data privacy; and greater transparency.
TiSA is currently being negotiated between 23 World Trade Organisation (WTO) parties, including the EU. It is intended as a tool to reform the rules surrounding global trade in services, which have been in force since 1995 through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
The trade in services is a significant and growing part of the EU economy and the current rules are grossly outdated. Creating a level playing field and opening global markets to European service providers is long overdue and crucial to the protection and promotion of jobs in the European Union.
In no EU country are jobs so linked to the services sector as in the UK - more than half the UK workforce are employed in this field. The Trade in Services Agreement is an opportunity to boost our economy and to update trade rules for the benefit of all. Positive reform must ensure the protection of public services, workers’ rights and the ability of governments’ right to regulate.
Unemployment to remain virtually static
The European Commission, in its winter 2016 economic forecast, has predicted that the moderate growth and unemployment rate we have been experiencing will improve only “at a snail’s pace”. The Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, Pierre Moscovici acknowledged that more work is needed to increase investment and called for richer member states to increase public investment.
On that point, Veronica Nilsson, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), agreed: “Richer countries must invest more to drive growth and create jobs - we are with Commissioner Moscovici on that one.
“We do however have further concerns” added Ms Nilsson, “the Commissioner has said nothing about much needed wage increases, or the rise in low paid insecure work, despite his expectation that private consumption would be the main driver of growth next year.
“Moderate growth is obviously better than no growth, but it is deeply disappointing and worrying that unemployment is expected to fall at only such a slow pace.”
Following Tata Steel's announcement that it will sell its UK steel business, David Martin, Scottish MEP and spokesperson for trade for the Social and Democratic (S&D) Group in the European Parliament demanded stronger measures to protect European industry from unfair competition.
It was definitely not a sleepy start to the European Parliament's 2016 plenary sessions; we hit the ground running. With several important items on the agenda for employment, foreign affairs and the internal market, it was already expected to be a busy week. On top of that, we welcomed the new Dutch presidency of the European Council, whilst keeping one eye on European leaders attending the World Economic Forum which was taking place in Switzerland.
Labour MEPs also used the spotlight of the plenary session to promote two important issues for our constituents: the UK government's ongoing failure to apply for EU funding to help flood victims, and the review of EU state rules to help the steel industry.
Several Labour MEPs, including myself and fellow Scottish Labour MEP Catherine Stihler, represent regions where there has been severe flooding over recent weeks. As we have been saying time and again during this period, the EU has the EU Solidarity Fund which is specifically available for response to natural disasters. We wrote to Mr. Cameron in December (http://www.eurolabour.org.uk/floods-north-england-scotland-eu-solidarity-fund) to urge him to seek the money to help affected areas. As an EU member state, the UK is eligible for money from this fund, though the government do have to apply for it. Following floods in Bulgaria, Italy and Romania, these countries were able to claim €66.5m (£48m). Labour MEPs have not yet been able to draw any response on Mr. Cameron's inaction from his government, but we will continue to press him.
Labour MEPs continue to lead the call for EU action to save European steel industries. We have called on the European Commission to review EU state aid rules for the steel industry and secured an amendment to a report on EU competition policy calling on the Commission to review these state aid rules for energy intensive industries, guaranteeing effective carbon leakage protection and providing fair opportunities for EU industries. The UK steel industry is currently facing a combination of rising steel prices, social dumping, and an influx of cheap Chinese steel and climbing energy costs. However, we shouldn't have to be relying on the Commission. The government's MEPs voted against a report which recommended a level playing field for steel industries across Europe and the UK government has done nothing to help. Only on Tuesday, hundreds of jobs were lost at Tata plants in Wales, which will impact companies, communities and families. This is not a case of the UK government being unable to intervene, they are simply unwilling to. We will continue to update constituents on this story over the coming days and weeks.
In other votes this week, we called for EU action to tackle female entrepreneurship and means to raise skills to tackle youth unemployment. The EU can be a significant force to promote a better work-life balance and encourage girls' education in business and innovation; currently in the UK, men are twice as likely to start up a business as women. Boosting female entrepreneurship could bring £60 billion to the UK economy. We also voted for a report which calls on the Commission and national governments in the EU to act to increase the skills of young people to improve their prospects for finding a job. The report also calls for national governments to take action to prevent trainees and apprentices from being abused; recognise and strengthen dual learning; and implement immediately the operational programmes of the EU Youth Employment Initiative.
During this week's proceedings, the International Trade Committee adopted a resolution regarding the ongoing negotiations over the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) which called set out a firm series of demands to the European Commission. As the Socialists and Democrats coordinator for International Trade, I was very pleased that my group let the call for full exclusion of all public services, pushed for strong safeguards for workers, a binding new clause to guarantee data privacy and greater transparency. The trade in services is a significant and growing part of the EU economy. Creating a level playing field and opening global markets to European service providers is long overdue and crucial to the protection and promotion of jobs in the European Union. In no EU country are jobs so linked to the services sector as in the UK. The Trade in Services Agreement is an opportunity not only to boost our economy but to update trade rules for the benefit of all. Preventing social dumping and ensuring strict data protection is vital as e-commerce grows.
A report on the Digital Single Market (DSM) was put before MEPs on Tuesday. Labour MEPs tabled a number of amendments which would address the gaps on social and employment issues, universal access and coverage and improving digital skills. The DSM is a fantastic example of how British consumers benefit from EU membership. For instance, only last month, the Commission unveiled proposals which would allow travellers to watch geo-blocked services such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer whilst abroad. In particular, Labour MEPs pushed to ensure that future legislation takes into account and caters for those in certain workplaces, and rural and remote communities who have been left behind before. EU countries including the UK must invest in more superfast broadband and roll it out ASAP. The future lies in a knowledge economy, and we're working at an EU level to ensure that this is realised.
Labour MEPs supported new EU regulations that will raise safety standards for appliances such as boilers, gas cookers, ovens, barbecues and patio heaters, in an effort to prevent fatal gas poisoning. Continuing our support for strong common standards across a range of areas and industries, we believe this new regulation would ensure that a range of solid safety standards could put a stop to leaks of harmful gaseous substances. This is an issue Labour in Europe has long campaigned for EU action on, with several previous campaigns for carbon monoxide safety in particular. EU action can save lives. The regulations now go forward to national governments for approval, and are set to come into force in 2018.
Scottish MEP David Martin has called on the European Commission and the UK government to use China's rise to market economy status (MES) by the end of 2016 as an opportunity to pressure the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to demand Beijing plays fair and stops uncompetitive practices like the dumping of steel, which is devastating Britain's steel industry.
Wrapping up the European Parliament's efforts for 2015, the final Strasbourg session of the year was set against the backdrop of the European Council Summit where UK PM David Cameron's efforts to keep Britain in the European Union were once again called into question. It was a poignant thought as we looked to the year ahead.
I was very pleased to be in the chamber when Raif Badawi, an imprisoned blogger in Saudi Arabia, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. MEPs award this prize every year to individuals who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights. Raif was sentenced to 10 years in prison and to 1000 lashes for insulting Islam. MEPs have repeatedly been among a vast number of politicians from across the world and from across the political spectrum calling on King Salman to release him. He is one of a number of activists imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for freedom of speech, with Saudi Arabia carrying out a record number of executions in 2015. Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, was there to receive the award on his behalf.
A report by my Labour colleague Annaliese Dodds MEP on tackling tax avoidance and evasion was voted for by an overwhelming majority of MEPs - unfortunately, Conservative MEPs were among those who voted against it. Aggressive tax avoidance and evasion costs the UK economy £16bn every year, and it's time that Tory MEPs got behind efforts to prevent this. The mass of support for the report means that we can put pressure on the Commission to ensure that it is fully implemented.
There was also good news for a report which called for a level playing field to be developed in the steel industry; it was voted for by a huge majority of MEPs. The report moved for a level playing field across Europe, and to limit the dumping of cheap Chinese steel. Recent news of job losses across Europe - and particularly jobs in the UK - has prompted calls for action across the EU. European steel production is in danger of disappearing, but this vote from the European Parliament is a strong signal that EU citizens want action - and soon! The UK steel industry is one of those being hit hardest by dumping, yet disgracefully, David Cameron's MEPs were once again found to be voting against. Labour MEPs were very satisfied with the strong support for the report across the majority of the Parliament and fully back its recommendations. We urge the UK government to change its tactics and do the same.
Labour MEPs voted for a report calling for Member States to tighten up EU rules and practices on arms exports. EU arms, even with existing legislation, are finding their way into the hands of repressive regimes, terrorists and criminals. In 2014 the European Parliament overwhelmingly supported ratification of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which establishes global rules for the buying and selling of arms. With the EU accounting for more than a quarter of the global share of arms exports in 2013, this was an important signal to send. Transparency in the €20 billion European arms industry is long overdue. The Arms Trade Treaty requires an assessment of all exports to stop weapons ending up in conflicts fuelling genocide and human rights abuses.
With 2015 coming to a close, I look to the year ahead. There is a lot of work for us to do on a number of issues, and with the prospect of a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, I look forward to campaigning with to make sure Britain remains a member of the European Union. For our national interest, for British people, families and workers, Britain is better off as a member of the EU and the EU is better off with Britain as a member.
Happy New Year to all and my best wishes for 2016!