Aughinish Alumina situation still ‘critical’, Humphreys says

Minister for Business meets senior figures in Trump administration about Limerick plant

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys meets US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington DC. Photograph: Marty Katz

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys meets US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington DC. Photograph: Marty Katz

 

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys has warned that the situation regarding Aughinish Alumina in Limerick remained “critical” as she held a series of meetings with senior figures in the Trump administration including commerce secretary Wilbur Ross.

Ms Humphreys said that while the US treasury department’s decision to extend the wind-down period for individuals doing business with the company’s owner, Rusal, had given some “breathing space,” the situation remained critical.

“The sanctions have inadvertently put the company’s future in jeopardy, and we’re facing a potentially devastating impact on employment in the regional economy,” Ms Humphreys said in Washington.

She was referring to US sanctions introduced last month targeting Russian individuals and businesses including Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, the majority shareholder in EN+ Group which in turn owns 48 per cent of Rusal.

The sanction announcement, which could have an impact on 450 jobs at the Limerick plant, led to a flurry of activity at the highest political levels in Dublin and Brussels.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney spoke to Tom Shannon, undersecretary of state for political affairs, on the matter, while European Union and Irish representatives in Washington have urged the Trump administration to reconsider.

As Europe’s largest alumina plant, the Limerick factory provides about 30 per cent of the EU’s alumina, much of which is used for aluminium in the car and aeronautical industries.

Last week the US signalled that a compromise may be reached, after it extended the deadline for companies to wind down dealings with Rusal until October and indicated that it would provide sanctions relief to the company if Oleg Deripaska relinquishes control.

Tariffs

Separately, Aughinish Alumina is facing a further blow as the US considers imposing tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the EU and elsewhere. Though the EU was given an extra 30 days’ exemption period from the tariffs last week until June 1st, Mr Ross has warned that the exemption would not be renewed indefinitely. Steep tariffs would have an indirect impact on Aughinish as it provides alumina to some of the biggest users of aluminium in Europe who then export their products to the US.

Ms Humphreys said Aughinish was “hugely important to the local economy in Limerick” and contributes about €130 million annually.

“It employs 450 staff and another 220 contractors in a rural community where there are limited sources of alternative employment,” she said.

But she also noted its impact elsewhere in Europe. “Thousands of jobs in France, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and Slovenia could be affected, and important industries like the aviation and automobile sectors.”

On the issue of the steel and aluminium tariffs, Ms Humphreys said she was using her engagements in Washington to “express Ireland’s disappointment, and indeed that of our EU colleagues, that the EU has not been permanently exempted from the tariffs”.

‘Not justified’

“We’re not a threat to the US national security. We’re not the cause of the US industry’s problems, so hitting EU exports is not justified. The EU, including Ireland, is very concerned by the direct and indirect impact that the US move on aluminium tariffs could have on the US market, the EU market and indeed on third-country markets.”

She said the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Foreign Affairs and her own department had been working continuously on the matter and that work would be “ongoing.”

During her visit to Washington, Ms Humphreys also met deputy US trade representative Jeff Gerrish and Gail Slater, special adviser to President Donald Trump on technology, telecommunications and cybersecurity. Other meetings included engagements with the US chamber of commerce and several IDA companies in New York, including First Derivatives, Shutterstock and Met Life who are expanding operations in Ireland.