Tuesday, January 31, 2017

An Appetite for Steel

Recent newspaper headlines proclaimed that India is now poised to overtake Japan as the “second largest producer of steel in the world”. This sounds quite impressive - until you see the numbers in perspective. The largest producer of steel in the world - China - produces over 800 million metric tonnes (mmt) while India’s 'record production' was less the 90 mmt in 2015.

The current situation is like that of a huge kitchen that needs to keep itself busy. Excess production capacity is now at odds with low appetite. Over the past 40 years there has been a massive increase in global steel production - especially in China. A country that produced just 37 million metric tonnes (mmt) in 1980 produced more than 21 times that amount - 803 mmt in 2015!

Similarly, on a much more modest scale, India which had been producing 9.5 mmt in 1980 , increased its production to about 90 mmt in 2015.

China’s domestic appetite has been a bit satiated now, so now we are seeing a sharp increase in its steel exports. As with numerous other Chinese products its prices are super competitive, and this is triggering “anti-dumping” measures from other countries, including India. About two years ago, India’s DGFT set a Minimum Import Price (MIP) for 66 types of iron and steel products, while at the same time, imposed duties up to 20% on a number of steel products.

The main countries affected by these measures were China, South Korea and Japan, which accounted for 63.6% of total imported steel volume, and 54.6% in terms of value. As expected, Chinese imports are the largest at over 37%.

Yet, strangely, it is not China or South Korea, but Japan that is at the forefront of the campaign against the restrictions imposed by India. It has threatened to take India to WTO over the import restrictions, and various interpretations of the provisions of GATT 1994 and the Agreement on Safeguards.

What explains this unusual stance?

Some commentators claim that for Japan, India is  just the proxy country used to fight a larger war against MIPs and other border taxes. According to others, this is just a reflection of political clout wielded by steel exporters in Japan. Either way, one thing is clear - higher steel prices is not good news for downstream industries, or for the consumers who end up paying more for cars and cooking utensils.

Lobbies like the Indian Steel Association (ISA) and their counterparts in Japan will always try their best to influence governments for their own benefit. Ultimately, it is for the government to strike a balance between the long term costs and benefits of bowing to the pressure of industry lobbies. And that, unfortunately, is linked to election funding...



(26Jan17-BL) - http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/policy/russia-says-steel-exports-to-india-dipped-by-a-third-due-to-curbs/article9503240.ece

(25Jan17, BT - India to be global no.2 steel producer by 2020) - http://www.businesstoday.in/current/corporate/india-closes-japan-second-largest-steel-producing-country/story/244963.html

Reuters (23Jan17) - http://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-india-steel-idUSKBN1541DX

Forbes (23Jan17) - http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2017/01/23/japan-threatens-india-with-wto-action-over-steel-good-it-should-to-benefit-indians/#561e021a53ae

(22Jan17 - Taiwan) -- http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/policy/taiwan-wto/article9496340.ece?ref=relatedNews


DGFT Notification on MIP (4Aug16) - http://dgft.gov.in/Exim/2000/NOT/NOT16/noti2016.pdf

(4Dec16, IE) - Indian Steel Association (ISA) for extension of MIP for 6 months - http://indianexpress.com/article/business/business-others/extend-mip-on-steel-products-for-six-months-indian-steel-authority-4409972/

(30Mar16 - VCCircle - Timeline on MIPs) - http://www.vccircle.com/news/engineering/2016/03/30/india-extends-safeguard-duty-steel-imports-till-march-2018l


* http://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Trends/Japanese-steelmakers-switching-to-lower-grade-raw-materials?page=2
- Japanese steelmakers (Nippon, Sumitomo) use better technology to lower costs. They process cheaper, low grade coke to better quality before replacing 50% of high-grade imported coke...this keeps their steel competitive in the world markets.

(2Dec2016) - http://www.infracircle.in/indias-coke-import-financial-year/
> India imported ~ 3 million tonnes of metallurgical coke in 2015-16 --- of which 2 million was from Chine alone!...Metallurgical coke, a key raw material for the steel sector, is used for smelting iron ore in the blast furnace. Around 0.7 tonne of coke is required to produce 1 tonne of steel and it constitutes 40-50% of the total cost of crude steel.
The government on 25 November imposed anti-dumping duty in the range of $16.29-$25.2 per tonne on imports of low ash metallurgical coke from countries such as China and Australia for a period of five years.

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