China steel exports fall from record in relief for global steelmakers

* Exports at 108.5 mln T in 2016 from record 112.4 mln T in 2015

* China’s bid to tackle overcapacity, pollution disrupted output

MANILA, Jan 13 (Reuters) - China’s steel exports fell in 2016 from a record in the previous year, dragged down by improved demand at home and Beijing’s resolve to tackle overcapacity, in a relief for steelmakers elsewhere that have been hit by cheap Chinese shipments.

China’s exports could slip further this year, analysts and industry officials say, as Beijing strengthens its supply-side reforms and overseas markets fight against being flooded with Chinese products.

China’s exports of steel products fell 3.9 percent from the previous month to 7.8 million tonnes in December, customs data showed on Friday. Full-year export volumes dropped to 108.46 million tonnes from a record 112.4 million tonnes in 2015, Reuters calculations showed.

“It’s a relief for steel producers globally, especially in ASEAN,” said Roberto Cola, vice president of the ASEAN Iron and Steel Council.

About a third of China’s steel exports go to member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Trade cases filed by countries from Asia to Europe against Chinese steel products as well as improved domestic demand may have helped limit China’s exports this year, said Cola.

“But I think the big factor was the shutdown of many steel plants due to China’s anti-pollution measures which had curbed volume for export,” he said.

China shut at least 45 million tonnes of steel production capacity last year, meeting its target, in a drive to address a glut through 2020.

“The supply-side reform created some persistent production disruption so China didn’t produce as much as it would have in an unconstrained market,” said Andrew Driscoll, head of research at CLSA.

China this week unleashed its boldest reform plan so far for its bloated steel sector, saying it will eliminate all production of low-quality steel products by the end of June, a move analysts say could dent exports further. (Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Tom Hogue)