Over 100 representatives of Czech steel producers travelled to Brussels on Monday for a major protest. They joined thousands of others from around Europe in demanding that China not be granted market economy status – a move they say would make it harder for European companies to protect themselves from cheap Chinese steel imports and cost thousands of jobs.
The Czech steel workers and exectuives came from Vítkovice Steel, Třinecké železárny and ArcelorMittal Ostrava, all of which are in the industrial east of the country.
They took to the streets of Brussels with thousands of others from over a dozen European states to protest against what they say are unfair practices on the part of China.
The demonstration came as business ministers from around Europe were gathering in the Belgian capital for talks ahead of a possible landmark decision by the World Trade Organisation to grant China market economy status later this year. If the WTO does so, it will make it harder to limit Chinese imports.
Europe’s steel industry is demanding that the EU take a tougher stance against Chinese firms “dumping” steel at below market prices in this part of the world.
More than half of the Czech participants came from Třinecké železárny. The company’s head of personnel and administration, Ivo Žižka, told Czech Television why they had made the long bus journey to Brussels.
“The main reason is so that we can tell the European Commission that it is not entirely appropriate to give market economy status to China when it doesn’t fulfill four of the five attributes needed for that status… We’re not opposed to competition, just unfair competition. By that I mean that we want equal conditions. We’re not afraid to compete with anybody.”
Another Czech protestor, Lubomír Němec from Vítkovice Steel, told Czech Radio that Europe should send the Chinese packing; young people in our country need work, he said.
In specific terms, the three steel firms in the Moravian Silesian Region say they fear the loss of 15,000 direct jobs and up to 45,000 indirect positions.
The CEO and chairman of ArcelorMittal Ostrava, Tapas Rajderkar, who also travelled to Brussels for the protest, told Czech Television that China had doubled its exports of cheap, state-subsidised steel to the EU in the last 18 months. This comes in the wake of an economic slowdown in China.
Jan Czudek of Třinecké železárny raised another issue. Unlike firms in Europe, China does not produce steel in an environmentally safe manner, he said.
The three Czech companies this month called on the country’s government to take action to save the Czech steel industry.