INTERVIEW-US steel body sees 'concerning' imports surge in 2013
* U.S. steel output down 7 pct year-on-year in early 2013
* Steel origin fraud cases on the rise in the U.S.
* Steel use, imports expected to rise 2-3 pct in 2013
By Silvia Antonioli
Feb 22 (Reuters) - Steel imports into the United States are expected to grow for the fourth year running in 2013 to the detriment of U.S. steel producers, a U.S. steel trade association said this week.
U.S. apparent steel use rose 7.8 percent in 2012, but in the same year imports of finished steel rose 18 percent, gaining market share against the domestic supply, according to data by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).
The AISI expects imports to grow once again this year by at least 2 percent to 3 percent, in line with steel use forecasts.
Association President and CEO Tom Gibson said the imports forecast might even be too optimistic because the global market remains heavily over supplied and pressure to export is high.
"We are concerned about it. We have repeatedly raised the problem to our government," Gibson said during an interview at the AISI headquarters in Washington.
"We are a competitive region, but because of the behavior of certain governments, with their heavily subsidized state enterprises, we have some challenges."
A global glut of steel production, which the AISI estimates at around 400 million tonnes worldwide, 200 million tonnes of which is in China, pushed various countries to export more aggressively last year.
China has been among the most active exporters to the United States and its exports rose a "not acceptable" 34 percent last year, according to the AISI.
Looking at steel production and demand growth, AISI sees a weaker first half for 2013 compared with 2012, but thinks a recovery might be on the cards for the second half of the year.
Steel production in the United States was down about 7 percent in the first five weeks of this year, compared with the same period of 2012, underlining the current market weakness.
Countries such as China, Brazil and Russia already have in place, or are looking to impose, restrictions on exports of steel ingredients. Such restrictions would raise the costs of steel raw materials in the rest of the world, AISI says.
"We are trying to encourage the government to engage with other governments to reach an agreement to end trade distorting practices and policies," AISI public policy and general counsel Kevin Dempsey, said during the same interview.
Among the more vulnerable products are steel rebar and plate, mainly used in construction, which posted a 49 percent and 19 percent increase, respectively, in 2012, while corrosion resistant sheet, used in auto production, and steel pipes posted 36 percent and 40 percent increases.
Stronger demand for steel products used by the U.S. oil industry has also attracted higher imports, said Lawrence Kavanagh, president of the Steel Market Development Institute - a business unit - the AISI, who also took part in the interview.
Imports of these products rose 24 percent last year and made up 63 percent of the U.S. market.
Another problem is also on the rise: Fraud cases where operators misrepresent the origin of steel products in order to avoid paying U.S. import duties.
"There are even people on the internet advertising such services to avoid paying the actual amount of duties that are due for certain imports," Dempsey said.
"There is an actual market for this kind of activity, but we are trying to improve the enforcement of laws against it." (Reporting by Silvia Antonioli. Editing by Andre Grenon)