British steel exports to the US have plummeted by 20% since Donald Trump slapped tariffs on metals arriving in America, we can reveal.
Senior industry sources disclosed the impact of the 25% tariffs amid mounting fears for the sector if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal.
UK firms sent 73,000 fewer tonnes of steel to the US in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2017.
While officials admit not all of the reduction can be blamed on Mr Trump’s anti-free trade move, which came into force in June, they said it will “clearly be a significant factor” fuelling the fall.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, whose constituency includes Britain’s biggest steelworks, Port Talbot, accused the President of “reckless, bullying tactics”.
He said: “Mr Trump’s short-sighted, scatter-gun steel tariffs are having a seriously negative impact on our access to the US market”.
A UK Steel briefing paper, seen by the Mirror, warns the situation could worsen as steel which is no longer sent to America is exported to other markets instead.
“The EU is the largest open market for steel in the world and is therefore a prime target for import surges,” says the document.
“The threat of injury to EU industry is therefore significant.”
It adds: “The data are now clearly showing a drop off in imports into the US and this has started to cause deflection towards the EU.”
Evidence shows about 45% of steel which would previously have gone to the US is finding its way to the bloc.
The paper also warns of “huge uncertainty still remaining with regards to Brexit, not least as to whether the withdrawal agreement will receive parliamentary approval”.
UK Steel director Gareth Stace said: “We have already seen our exports to the US drop off significantly this year, due to a range of factors, and the concern is that as we move into 2019 the situation will worsen.
“As additional US steel production capacity comes online, and our US customers are pushed to look to cheaper domestic providers – not subject to these protectionist tariffs – we believe we’ll start to see a much more direct impact on UK exports.
“To date, many US customers have simply absorbed the tariffs, but we do not believe this will continue indefinitely and our exports are likely to continue to drop.
“This would hit the sector particularly hard if it came at the same time as a no-deal Brexit.”
Community steelworkers’ union general secretary Roy Rickhuss said: “Community campaigned hard to stop the Trump tariffs, which still threaten jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
“The predictable fall in steel exports to the US gives us little hope Britain will be signing free trade agreements with America any time soon.
“British steelworkers are bracing themselves for a disastrous no-deal Brexit, which would threaten the fragile recovery our industry has made in recent years.
“With half our steel exports still going into Europe, putting up barriers to trade with the EU would be a disaster for steelmakers here in the UK.
“The increasing threat of a no-deal Brexit, coupled with the expected decrease in Chinese steel demand and the knock on effect of Trump’s tariffs, risks creating a perfect storm that throws us back into the worst of the steel crisis”
Industry has been pinning its hopes for a smooth Brexit on the 21-month transition due to kick in when the UK leaves the bloc on March 29..
It would run until the end of 2020.
However, it is only triggered if Britain quits the EU with a deal.
Fearing we could leave without a pact, the briefing paper says it is “essential that the UK Government comes forward with a contingency plan … should the withdrawal agreement not make it through Parliament, effectively ruling out the much-needed transition period”.
In a siren warning for the coming months, the amount of steel produced worldwide is predicted to rise in 2019 while demand is set to slow.
Oversupply could drive down prices, piling fresh pressure on manufacturers.
Mr Stace added: “Particularly worrying for UK producers in all this is the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
“If no action is taken here, no-deal means no safeguards for UK producers, which basically means UK Government opening the floodgate and letting a tidal wave of steel onto our shores – this at a time when protectionist sentiment is on the increase across the world, and global steelmaking overcapacity remains a major concern.
“Such a situation, along with all the other chaos a no-deal Brexit would bring, would be truly devastating for the steel sector. It must be avoided at all costs.”
The Mirror has been campaigning to Save Our Steel since the industry was battered by plant closures and thousands of job losses in 2015-16.