The Trade Remedies Authority was founded by the government in March 2019 to remedy unfair trading practices, a role which used to be handled by the European Union.
Initially a part of the department for international trade, Trade Remedies Authority became an independent organisation in May 2021.
Since it was established, the Trade Remedies Authority has been based in Reading, with its offices at North Gate House in Valpy Street.
It employs around 150 people with specialists in trade law, administration and investigations.
Explaining what the organisation does, Simon Walker CBE, chair of the authority, said: “It was set up to deal with trade issues where there’s dumping, which is where another country such as China which has over-production of a good may dump its spare capacity on the British market, that could damage industry in this country.
“Either because it’s sold below the market price, or because it benefits from unfair subsidies.
“For example this may be where a government subsidises an industry that we don’t subsidise in this country.
“So our industries aren’t competing on a level playing field. But we’re also conscious of the needs of consumers for well-priced goods.
“So our work is about balancing consumer interests with producer interests which can be quite a difficult issue. And that’s what we do. Basically, we try to create a balance and make recommendations to the government.”
Specifically, the Trade Remedies Authority reports to the secretary of state for business and trade, Kemi Badenoch, Conservative MP for Saffron Walden.
Mr Walker added: “All these issues were dealt with by the EU before for the whole union. So it’s only since we left the EU that this has become relevant.”
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) spoke with him at a staff celebration of the second anniversary of the launch of the Trade Remedies Authority held at Park House at the University of Reading.
During the meeting, there was discussion of the authority moving locations.
But luckily, the authority will be staying in the town, just in a new building.
Mr Walker clarified: “We are Reading organisation.
“We have 150 people in our office in central Reading.
“And we’re actually moving offices, but we’re staying in central reading.
“More than a third of our staff live in and around Reading. And that’s part of the government’s measure to take authorities like this one out of central London, and I welcome it.
“I love Reading. I’s a great place to be.”
He added: “One of the great things about Reading is it’s very easy to get to from other parts of the country. And, of course, with hybrid working, that has meant that a lot of our people work from home a lot of the time.
“So in some ways, we’ve made a virtue of necessity, and adapted our own work style to the circumstances, but Reading is a great place to do it.”
The authority is not due to move until Spring next year.
Mr Walker predicted that staff levels will remain the same following the move.
He said: “I think it’ll probably stay around 140-150 mark, we are being given new powers to help in the case of free trade agreements.
For instance, if there were to be a dispute about the consequence of a free trade agreement, itt could be that will lead to an increase in staff, but nothing is confirmed yet.
“We’re not talking huge numbers. But if we’re given additional responsibilities, the staff numbers could grow.”
In an interview, the LDRS asked Mr Walker for an examples of recommendations that authority has made and where it has suggest tariffs.
He said: “Chinese steel is the one that’s attracted a lot of attention, steel and basic metal products. But there are other examples, too. One of the first issues we did was about frozen trout from Turkey.
“I go to Morrison’s that’s where I buy trout, and it’s frozen, and it comes from Turkey. But the question is, is that subsidised unfairly by the Turkish Government?
“We ended up recommending keeping a small tariff in place for five years to correct the balance – between 1.5% and 9.5% for different companies exporting the goods.
“You can still buy frozen trout and Morrison’s if you want to. But it gives consunmers more options. So that’s a basic example that relates to consumers directly.”
Mr Walker added that the authority has also carried out a number of investigations relating to the trade of building materials as well, such as the aluminium for window frames and steel used in the structure of buildings.
Mr Walker said: “What we’re saying is ‘Hang on the Chinese government or the Turkish government or whoever is unfairly subsidising their industries.
“And a subsidy applied by a foreign government isn’t necessarily handing out cash. It could be providing a free building, for example, or it could be supplyinh much cheaper energy, the Russian government might provide cheap gas or cheap oil to industry, there are a number of ways of defining subsidies that we need to consider.”
Mr Walker is the first chair of the authority, but he is due to step down when his tenure completes in the coming months, with a search taking place for his successor.