EU sanctions gap could allow Russian aluminium into UK

The UK construction sector is at risk of inadvertently using Russian aluminium because of a gap in EU sanctions, a trade association has warned.

Specifically, the EU has not sanctioned imports of aluminium slabs, ingots and billets, which make up about 85 per cent of the Russian aluminium imports to the trade bloc, according to UK-based European Aluminium.

Director general Paul Voss said: “We must stop funding the Russian war machine with revenues from aluminium imports.”

The UK alone has imposed almost 1,800 sanctions on Russian individuals and companies since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Foreign secretary Lord Cameron also announced new measures targeting the Russian metals trade in February.

But European Aluminium warned this month that UK firms could be inadvertently importing Russian aluminium slabs, ingots and billets via the EU.

In December, the UK banned all imports of Russian metals including aluminium, while the London Metal Exchange ruled out further aluminium trade with the country from April this year.

Iain McIlwee, chief executive of fit-out industry body the Finishes and Interiors Sector, said the UK needs “effective support” to protect its construction supply chain from exposure to Russian products.

He said: “We urge [the] UK government to join European Aluminium to call for tighter controls in the EU, so we can be sure we are not inadvertently buying materials and products that are supporting the conflict in the Ukraine.”

According to European Aluminium, Russia has been able to make more than €3.5bn (£2.98bn) over the past two years from aluminium exports to the EU, thanks to the gap in sanctions.

The issue has long been a topic of discussion in the construction sector, with calls for all imports from Russia to stop immediately following its full invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

In March 2022, the Timber Trade Federation warned that all timber products from Russia and Belarus could be affected.

The UK introduced a ban on Russian timber imports that summer, but trade organisation Timber Development UK (TDUK) warned last December that Russian birch and larch products were still making their way into Britain.

“It has been disappointing since to see a small number of bad actors in the market would continue to import from these countries,” TDUK chief executive David Hopkins said at the time.

A spokesperson for the UK government said: “We have implemented the most stringent package of economic sanctions ever imposed on a major economy and we have announced the creation of a new Office of Trade Sanctions Implementation to strengthen our enforcement of trade sanctions.

“Circumventing the UK’s sanctions is a criminal offence and any evidence of a breach should be reported to HMRC.”

Construction News contacted the European Council, which sets the EU’s political agenda, for comment.

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