Thousands of jobs "at risk" in European wind tower industry

Anti-dumping  practises are putting “thousands of jobs” in the European steel industry at risk.

That is the stark warning from a newly formed association representing the besieged sector.

The European Wind Tower Association (EWTA) held a briefing at the Press Club in Brussels on Thursday to raise awareness of the issue.

With the European Commission urged to investigate, a senior EWTA representative said, “We see the large orders go to the Chinese companies.Wind tower producers in Europe are being left with almost nothing.”

The harmful trading practices are said to come mostly from China and affect Europe’s wind steel tower industry which manufacture the towers for wind turbines.

It is claimed China and other Asian nations have sought to get round EU anti-dumping measures by shipping whole towers into some European countries, in particular Spain, France, Denmark, Germany, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

Anti-dumping measures, introduced in early 2016, targeted steel plates, one of the materials used in the manufacture of steel towers.

European producers of steel towers say the importation of the products, usually at a price which is substantially less than is charged in Europe, seriously undermines the sector here.

As steel towers can weigh up to 100 tons and are 35 metres in length they are often transported in up to six different sections.

Tower 1

The European producers also point out that Asian manufacturers are not subject to the same strict legal environmental and social regulations as their European counterparts.

Speaking at a news briefing in Brussels on Thursday, Goncalo Lobo Xavier, of the European Wind Tower Association (EWTA), a Brussels-based association aiming to promote and support European steel towers manufactures, called on the commission to launch an investigation into “these harmful trading practices.”

He said, “China and others are circumnavigating the EU’s anti-dumping measures by shipping in complete steel towers, as opposed to just parts used in their manufacture, as in the past.

“They are seriously undercutting the industry here and, of course, are not subject to the same rules and regulations as European producers. It all amounts to an unfair playing field and this is putting the steel tower industry here at serious risk.”

“We are merely asking for everyone to abide by the same rules and regulations.”

The European trade market faced a “troubling future” because of this “unfair competition from Asia” which was partly a side effect of the antidumping case against China.

After the Commission took anti-dumping measures on Chinese steel, prices for heavy plate originating from outside of China have increased by 40% since 2016. As a consequence, European wind steel tower producers’  production costs have increased, leading to a drop in the demand from European customers.

“We're losing more and more orders to Chinese wind tower producers,” said Markus Scheithauer from Germany and a EWTA board member.

Scheithauer, also head of procurement and sales at SIAG, added, “We see the large orders go to the Chinese companies. Wind tower producers in Europe are being left with almost nothing.”

Some of the side effects of this plunge in demand are already being felt, with many European wind tower producers being forced to accept orders below cost, he said.

“We've had to fire some people,” said José María Ávila, from Spain, Chief Marketing Officer at GRI Renewable Industries. “And because we continue to see a negative trend, we might need to lay off more people. It's a really difficult situation for us. And it's not only the wind tower producers. Also our suppliers are starting to suffer.”

The EWTA says that the current tariffs on steel and aluminium by the US also “puts in prejudice this European industry, its growth and jobs.” Xavier told reporters, “Thousands of European jobs and companies are in danger of disappearing. In fact, it is already happening with the closure of some steel tower producers.

“We are not afraid of competition but we need to defend European jobs and companies and safeguard this sector from these harmful trading practices. Our companies respect  issues environmental and other issues but do others to the same?”

The main affected countries in Europe include Spain, France and Denmark.

“The last thing we are asking for is protectionism,” said Xavier,  EWTA executive director.“But when we look at the prices that some Asian companies are offering, it makes one wonder: Are they perhaps receiving some form of aid that creates unfair competition with companies in Europe? We don't know but we think it's fair to ask and investigate. That’s all what we are asking for, that the EU looks more closely into these points.”

He also voiced concern about the possible impact of both the US steel tariffs on the EU, Mexico and Canada and also the current trade spat between the US and China, saying, “A trade war is in no-one’s interest. It will, contrary to what it is designed to do, adversely affect the US market and US steel and aluminium producers. It is difficult to predict exactly what sort  of impact this will have on the market here but this kind of trade war is not good for our companies either.”   

Scheithauer added, “We urge the European Commission and the steel industry to confront this reality and investigate what is going on.”

He said, “The reason we are here today is to raise awareness, both at EU level and among the public, about what is happening. We get the impression that not a lot is known about this. But it needs action and action now because we need to protect our workforce and our industry. This is just a first step but we hope our voice will be heard.”

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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