FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Tata Steel (TISC.NS) must be given time to work on a solution for its British steel pension liabilities in preparation for a possible merger with Thyssenkrupp's (TKAG.DE) European steel business, Thyssenkrupp's finance chief said on Thursday.
"You see substantial progress... There is something afoot and one must give Tata time to work it out," Guido Kerkhoff told journalists on a conference call after the German industrial group reported first-quarter results.
UK steelworkers' unions have given their backing to a plan to close the 15 billion-pound pension fund to future accruals, but Germany's Thyssenkrupp wants the fund separated from the operational business before merger talks can progress.
"This is a necessary but not a sufficient step," Kerkhoff said on the call.
Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Maria Sheahan