Newcastle’s MP calls for government support for UK ceramics industry

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09 Mar 2016
Paul Farrelly joined Stoke MPs’ calls for a committed government strategy to support ceramics in House of Commons debate.

Westminster Hall was the venue for the latest debate over ceramics in the Commons yesterday when North Staffordshire MPs pressed the government not to ignore the industry, when negotiating over carbon taxes, climate change measures, support for steel-makers and further trade agreements with China.

The discussion, secured by Stoke Central’s MP Tristram Hunt, was at the request of the British Ceramics Confederation, which has been pressing the government to be more responsive to the industry’s concerns in various international negotiations now underway.

The sector employs 20,000 people in all, with annual sales of £2 billion, and exports of £500 million. Like steel, it is a so-called ‘energy intensive industry’, subject to European Union agreements over climate change emissions.

‘Although, of course, we are all concerned about the future of the steel industry, it is very important in our discussions with Brussels that the ceramics industry is not disregarded or harmed’, Mr Farrelly said.

As well as taking into account dumping of ceramics by China at lower-than-production prices, Newcastle’s MP also said the UK and EU should still be concerned about copying and counterfeiting; and should look afresh at ‘origin marking’ – so ‘Made in Staffordshire’ really means ‘Made in Staffordshire’ – to help the industry.

‘Many companies such as Doulton and Wedgwood have found themselves in a position where, weeks after producing new designs, professional salesmen from Chinese industrial complexes are going around Europe with portfolios of copies of their designs marketed at a third or a quarter of the price,’ Mr Farrelly said.

Responding, Anna Soubry - the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise - conceded that more work needed to be done on misleading marking on ceramics products.

The debate took place in the midst of an ongoing debate between the UK and the EU on whether China should be granted so-called ‘Market Economy Status’, a move that might  have widespread implications on the UK ceramics sector, as well as steel.

The Minister disagreed, however, that this would prevent meaningful anti-dumping measures against unfair Chinese exports and that the UK could still impose tariffs in retaliation.

North Staffordshire MPs have been pressing for a mandatory ‘mark of origin’ for ceramics for 20 years, on product safety grounds, too, and the move is supported by the industry right across Europe. The last push came before the 2015 election, but the UK government – influenced by cheap importers – has always blocked the measure from progressing.

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