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BEIJING, Aug 4 (Reuters) - China's leading steelmaker has estimated national crude steel output in 2013 at 822 million tonnes, nearly 6 percent above official data, suggesting the country's supply glut is worse than previously estimated.
The figure given in a speech published on Monday by Xu Lejiang, chairman of the state-owned parent of Shanghai-listed Baosteel Corp, would take the annual growth rate for steel output in 2013 from 7.5 percent to more than 13 percent.
China's steel sector, by far the world's biggest, has been plagued by a persistent oversupply that has depressed prices and saddled hundreds of mills with colossal debts. Many are already on the brink of closure.
"The harsh market situation has forced China's steel enterprises to experience firsthand the negative impact that overcapacity is having on the healthy development of the steel industry," Xu told an internal meeting of the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) last week.
The government has stepped up efforts to crack down on the bloated sector, restricting new capacity growth and forcing outdated and polluting capacity to close, but new plants have continued to go into operation.
According to a transcript of the speech published on CISA's website (www.chinaisa.org.cn), Xu said China's official steel capacity levels reached 1.106 billion tonnes last year, putting utilisation rates at 74.3 percent. Total capacity has now risen to 1.14 billion tonnes, Xu said.
He said CISA's 88 members had a total capacity of 842.93 million tonnes last year, and produced 663.8 million tonnes of crude steel. Smaller, non-member firms had a total capacity of 263.29 million tonnes and produced 158.17 million tonnes, putting their average utilisation rate at just 60 percent.
Xu said Chinese steel mills would continue to struggle in the second half of the year amid financing difficulties, rising environmental compliance costs and higher tax rates.
"The age of rapid growth in the steel sector has already come to an end and China will gradually see negative growth in steel production," he said.
China produced 412 million tonnes of steel in the first six months of 2014, up 3 percent on the official data, CISA said. But with demand stagnant as a result of downturns in key sectors like construction, apparent consumption rose just 0.4 percent to 376 million tonnes. (Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Richard Pullin)