Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Russian steel firm mauls EU officials

  • NLMK exports 200,000 tonnes a year of cold rolled steel to the EU and produces 500,000 tonnes in its EU factories (Photo: Thyssengroup)

One of Russia’s top steel firms has launched a fierce, personal and multi-pronged attack on the European Commission in a bid to overturn anti-dumping penalties.

The NLMK group lashed out earlier this week against the commission’s recent decision to impose duties of some 25 percent on its exports on grounds that it was selling steel at artificially low prices.

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Its attack was joined by Dentons, a global law firm representing NLMK, Portland Communications, a London-based PR firm whose relationship with NLMK to unclear, and by John Smith, who probably does not exist.

NLMK said in a press release that the commission decision was based on “wrong data and incorrect calculations”. It noted that it has five factories in the EU and that it would be "absurd" to dump steel to harm them.

Sergey Babichenko, its top PR man, reached out to media in Brussels.

He told EUobserver the commission did it “to protect their [EU states’] markets” and that NLMK might take it to court. He also said “it’s connected to the economic situation [in Europe] … there’s a very high rise in anti-dumping measures”.

That is not true according to commission figures.

The numbers show there has not been any overall increase in new EU anti-dumping cases in the past five years. In the first half of 2016, the figure was one third of the average in the past two years.

In the steel sector, there was just one new case against Russia (NLMK) in the past 18 months.

At the same time, Dentons sent a letter to the commission which said that nasty behaviour by two EU officials on a visit to an NLMK plant in Russia last year “vitiated” the anti-dumping decision.

The letter, which named the officials, spoke of their “arrogant attitude” and their “bullying, psychological harassment” of NLMK staff. It said one of them “said that he hated Russia and hated going to Russia”. It said the other one “lost his temper and started shouting” at people.

That letter was marked “STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL”.

But Portland Communications circulated an excerpt of it to journalists in Brussels. When asked if the firm worked for NLMK, it declined to answer. The full text was also circulated by John Smith, a generic English name, from a public email address.

When EUobserver asked NLMK to comment on its lobbying tactics, it referred questions to Dentons. When EUobserver asked Dentons, its staff could not be reached for comment.

A commission source told EUobserver: “As a matter of principle, we hold all our staff to the highest ethical standards.”

The commission’s trade spokesman, Daniel Rosario, said the low numbers on anti-dumping cases “speak for themselves”. He added: “When implementing these measures, today as in the past, we follow ... strict rules in line with WTO law”.

World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules prohibit use of anti-dumping measures to protect markets.

Shortly after this story was published, NLMK's Babichenko contacted EUobserver to clarify his remarks on the increase in anti-dumping cases. "I didn’t mean (say) only Europe and/or measures against NLMK. It is a global tendency", he said.

EU still divided on Chinese steel

Despite growing political pressure, trade ministers at a meeting Friday are not expected to reinforce EU trade defense against Chinese dumping.

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