The feasibility of achieving the target of 300MT of crude steel capacity in the country has been a subject of intense deliberations in almost all the seminars and workshops held following the release of National Steel Policy 2017. The views expressed range from a total pessimism to questioning the moral binding of only 300MT capacity in the next 13 years.
First it was the huge logistic compulsion of transporting a significantly increased volume of raw materials and finished goods in the context of current status of rail, road and shipping network. Second issue was the massive capex requirement of Rs 10,00,000 crore with Rs 40,0000 crore towards plant and machinery needed to create additional 170MT of steel capacity.
The crux of this journey of steel capacity creation against the background of global surplus capacity was however the potential market absorption of a significantly large volume of steel, mostly domestic and partly exports. It was assessed that with 90% yield (from crude to finished steel) and 85% capacity utilisation (from the current level of 76%), the country would be making available around 230MT of finished steel, the volume that the country would be needing by 2030-31.
In FY18 the country has produced 102MT of crude steel out of the capacity of 134MT and consumed 90.7MT of finished steel (a growth of 7.9% over last year). The back of the envelope calculation shows that India needs to create crude steel capacity at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 6.4% between now and 2030 which would be conditioned if the finished steel market grows at a CAGR of 7.4% in the next 13 years.
During the first 5 months of the current fiscal, India’s steel consumption has grown by 7.9% over last year. At the current rate the market growth needed to warrant a steel capacity of 300MT by 2030-31 seems feasible at least arithmetically. One aspect of this calculation relates to import and export of steel.
In case of apparent consumption of steel (Prod. Plus imports minus exports minus stock variation) it is assumed that imports and exports balance each other which may not be a realistic proposition as even under restricted trade flow (restricted by protective actions by the countries) there would be situations of rising imports taking the share of the domestic market from the domestic players on account of mutual Agreements (RCEP), price competitiveness, better quality and non-availability from indigenous sources. As the market becomes dynamic with the end users becoming fully conscious of the value of cost effective methods of procurement and quality of the procured materials, it would pose a stiff challenge to the indigenous producers especially the SME sectors to supply equivalent quality at a competitive price.
Similarly the export competitiveness is equally important. Like imports there would be occasions when global prices would be attractive to prompt Indian players to penetrate the various export destinations. This would necessarily require good quality products equivalent to global standard and to make them available at competitive prices.
Thus the best lesson of India’s journey to 300MT is to make steel available at a best quality and at competitive price. It is well established that if such steel is regularly made available by the Indian steel producers to the host of procurement agencies, the builders and contractors, the urban and rural households and innumerable industrial units, big or small, there would hardly be any need to look for outside sources. A regular availability of steel including the special grades and profiles would ensure the trust of the end users in the capabilities of domestic players and this perception has the potential of adding new buyers thereby expanding the demand horizon by enhancing supply.
This aspect of demand generation has taken place in the past and would continue to be a regular phenomenon. Thus domestic market in India may not be a binding factor for creating capacities in the long run. For instance, steel required for solar panels, wind turbine, renewable energy (En 10025 S355 JR/JO etc), if regularly available from domestic sources, would create an enabling environment for the growth of these segments with enhanced demand.
As infrastructure and construction sector remains the prime demand driver, the role of government investment supplemented by private corporate investment would be predominant. It is possible to sum up the investment required by the government to translate the goals and targets set by Mega infrastructure projects in Bharatmala, Sagarmala, DFC, Railways and Metro Rails, Industrial Corridors, New airports and expansion of existing ones, new ports, urban and rural infrastructure. The annual budgetary support cannot fill up the gap and therefore emphasis on PPP mode to attract private corporate investment would be the answer. In all these areas the role of FDI and FPI and ADB and World Bank is critical.
On an overall basis the NSP 2017 targets do seem to be achievable and corresponding market growth is plausible. But the ability to make available the sizes, grades and other dimensions required by the demand driving sectors in the coming years at competitive prices by the domestic manufacturers would determine if the import flows from China, Korea, Japan and Russia would derive maximum benefits out of the incremental growth in demand for steel in India. The emerging demand-product and profile wise for different segments should be an integral part of the DPRs of all new projects.