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Steel Exports See Blistering Growth
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China's steel exports saw blistering growth in the first three quarters of this year but the pace will slow down, the China Iron & Steel Association said yesterday.


The nation exported 28.59 million tons of steel products in the first three quarters, rocketing 81 percent from a year earlier, according to statistics from the steel association.


The rapid growth was mainly the result of strong global demand for steel products and much higher prices on the international steel market than on the domestic market, said Luo Bingsheng, vice-chairman of the steel association.


"However, the sensational pace will not persist. It will decelerate to normal levels due to the shrinking gap between steel prices at home and abroad as well as China's recent measures to control steel exports," Luo said.


International steel prices were higher than domestic levels by US$100 to US$150 per ton on average at the end of last month.


To control steel exports, China slashed the tax rebate for steel shipments to the overseas market from 11 percent to 8 percent on September 14.


Over the weekend, the nation imposed a 10-per-cent tariff on exports of billets, pig iron and ferroalloy.


China's fast-growing steel exports have raised concern from foreign countries.


Earlier this month, the American Iron & Steel Institute suggested the US government take measures to safeguard its industry's position against steel products from China, the world's biggest steel-making country since 1996.


"We hope our disputes with foreign countries on steel exports will be resolved through dialogue; however, Chinese steel companies will actively respond to any anti-dumping charges to protect our legal interests," Luo said.


Industry analysts called on Chinese steel mills to diversify their export destinations to prevent trade disputes with foreign nations.


Zhou Xizeng from CITIC Securities Co Ltd in Beijing said: "Domestic steel producers should co-ordinate with each other to avoid converging in one or two regions and should also sell products at reasonable prices. Otherwise, they will encounter anti-dumping charges."


The United States, South Korea and the European Union now account for half of China's steel exports.


In contrast to the sharp growth in steel exports, China's imports of steel products tumbled by 29.3 percent year-on-year to 14.14 million tons from January to September, statistics showed.


Meanwhile, crude steel production in the country reached 308.44 million tons, up 18.45 percent from a year ago.


"China's steel sector should continue to depend on the domestic market," Luo said.


"An overall balance between our steel imports and exports should be preserved."


He added that other reasons for the rapid growth of China's steel exports include the mounting competitiveness of domestic steel mills' products thanks to technical upgrading, and their redoubled efforts to build the export market before the government's tax rebate cut last month.


In another development, Luo said international prices of iron ore, the major material for steel production, are likely to decline slightly next year following consecutive hikes this year and in 2005.


"We expect a mild decrease in iron ore prices next year as global iron ore supply will be a little larger than demand," he said.


He said steel companies from China, the world's biggest iron ore consumer and importer, will start "preliminary talks" next month and "formal negotiations" in December with global iron ore providers.


In the first half of this year, the world's three largest iron ore producers Companhia Vale do Rio Doce from Brazil and Australia's BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto elevated prices for 2006 by 19 percent.


Last year, prices surged by 71.5 percent.


Luo predicted that both domestic and overseas iron ore production will continue to grow steadily next year due to miners' heavy investment in recent years.


In the first three quarters of this year, China's iron ore output jumped by one-third to 480.82 million tons, according to statistics. Luo anticipated iron ore production to reach 640 million tons for the full year.


He said the nation's iron ore imports would slow next year because demand is weakening as a result of decelerating steel production.


Iron ore imports climbed by 24.2 percent to 247.13 million tons from January to September this year.


The growth was down from more than 30 percent annually over the past five years.


Qi Xiangdong, another official from the Chinese steel association, said crude steel production in the country will grow by 16.6 percent to 415 million tons for the full year.


And steel production for 2007 is expected to expand by 11 percent, Qi said.


(China Daily October 31, 2006)


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