Steel imports need urgent govt policy interventions

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Updated: March 24, 2015 2:01:34 PM

It is revealed that India is a net importer in bars and rods where large-scale imports of Boron-coated wire rods and TMT primarily from China and Ukraine...

Steel, steel production, steel producers in world, steel import, India steel import, financial news, nation news, india newsRecent data on steel export and import make interesting and somewhat depressing reading for steel industry. Total steel import of 8.13 million tonne in April-February ’15 is likely to reach a record annualised level of 8.9 million tonne in FY15 with annualised export level of 5.8 million tonne thereby making India a net importer of 3.1 million tonne.

The passing of the new mining law (MMDR Bill), thanks to the political support to the efforts of the ruling party, goes a long way to create an atmosphere of transparency in all mining-related issues. However, full implication of the various clauses in the law is yet to be appreciated in view of the volatile market condition in both raw materials and finished products. The large pay out while winning of bids, the enhanced royalty payment to state governments and additional sums to the district mineral funds (DMF) for the welfare of the displaced persons would enhance the production cost and it would be difficult to pass through fully to the buyers of the finished products in the current scenario.

It appears that in the next few years’ time, the law would enable owners of the mines that are being obtained through open bidding to bring down the production cost (in post 2020 with non-captive mines) significantly by less dependence on open market purchase, which is recurrently plagued with price fluctuations. There would be a comparative price advantage in the initial period by steel plants having captive mines, but as the global prices of raw materials are on a declining mode, the import route may still be a more viable option in the interim period.

Recent data on steel export and import make interesting and somewhat depressing reading for steel industry. Total steel import of 8.13 million tonne in April-February ’15 is likely to reach a record annualised level of 8.9 million tonne in FY15 with annualised export level of 5.8 million tonne thereby making India a net importer of 3.1 million tonne. India would be spending around R794.8 billion for imports and earning approx.R620.30 billion on account of exports leaving a shortfall of R174.50 billion.

Too much steel is available in the global market, sometimes below the marginal cost of Indian producer which has resulted in total steel exports to be marginally lower compared to last year. Value added products like downstream categories in the flats fetch higher realisation at specific markets. Hopefully Indian pleas with WTO to open up US market for its HRC exports would receive a positive response from the world body in FY16.

Exports of coated products have gained acceptance in markets of the US, the UAE, Spain, Italy and Iran. This can be further enhanced to achieve both volume and margin. It is revealed that India is a net importer in bars and rods where large scale imports of Boron-coated wire rods and TMT primarily from China (enjoying export rebates) and Ukraine have made things pretty difficult for the domestic producers. It is unfortunate that in spite of creating massive capacities in long products, India has emerged as a net importer in this category. As regards to rerollable scrap and semi-finished steel (major exporters: Indonesia, the UAE and Korea) the imports of more than 0.6 million tonne need detailed analysis.

India imports plates to the extent of nearly 1 million tonne. Apart from special profiles in boiler, ship breaking and over dimensional grades, Indian producers are capable of meeting most of the demand. The net import of more than 2 million tonne in HR/CR (from Korea and Japan under CEPA followed by very cheap imports from China and Ukraine) is an issue that needs urgent government policy interventions in putting in place appropriate measures to deal with unfair trade practices and imports under the garb of free trade.

Indian manufacturing is reeling under some deep rooted ailments. What is damaging for steel industry is rising imports of steel containing engineering and consumer durable goods mostly from China. Easy and cheaper availability of intermediates and processed goods from abroad has made assembly operations an essential ingredient in manufacturing thereby killing the value addition component. The malaise is fast spreading and ‘Make in India’ programme must squarely face the same.

The author is DG, Institute of Steel Growth and Development. Views expressed are personal.

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