China's Jingye Group set to buy British Steel: source

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 12 2019 07:14 AM | Updated as of Nov 12 2019 08:34 AM

A British Steel works sign is seen in Scunthorpe, northern England, Britain, May 21, 2019. Scott Heppell, Reuters/File

LONDON — British Steel was Monday set to announce a rescue deal by Chinese industrial giant Jingye Group, a source close to the matter told AFP.

Jingye's spokeswoman earlier confirmed that the Chinese group's chairman was in Britain for talks.

Reports said Jingye would pay £70 million ($90 million, 81 million euros) for British Steel which collapsed into liquidation in May.

"An announcement is expected today," the source told AFP.

Turkish military fund OYAK last month pulled out of a deal to rescue British Steel, whose owners Greybull Capital had blamed Brexit for its financial collapse.

The European Steel Association has meanwhile urged the EU to help the bloc's struggling sector, which it said has been swamped by cheap steel from Asia since the US imposed import tariffs in 2018.

Although it did not take the steel producer into state ownership, the UK government said in May that it would keep paying staff wages in the hope that a buyer could be found.

Some 5,000 people are employed by British Steel and an estimated 20,000 more have links to the firm's supply chain.

A total 4,000 British Steel staff work in the UK, with an additional 1,000 based in France and the Netherlands.

"If this (rescue) is confirmed, then we welcome this positive step towards securing British Steel under new ownership," said a spokesman for the UK-based Community trade union.

Greybull Capital created British Steel, a maker of long steel products, in 2016 after snapping up assets from Tata Steel.

Long steel products include plates, rails for railways, sections used in construction, and wire rod. The latter can be used as steel rope for infrastructure like suspension bridges or filaments for car tyres to give rigidity.

China's Hebei-based Jingye Group specializes in iron and steel, but has investments in tourism, hotels and real estate. 

According to its website, it has total assets of 39 billion yuan ($5.5 billion) and 23,500 employees.

"A purchase by Jingye of British Steel would certainly complement what they do there in China," Gareth Stace, director general of industry lobby group UK Steel, told BBC radio on Monday.

"But actually British Steel makes rail, high-quality rail and heavy sections ... which Jingye doesn't make."

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