EU ambassador to China urges Beijing to do more to cut steel output

BEIJING (Reuters) - China should urgently deal with its steel overcapacity problem, the European Union’s ambassador to China said on Monday, as the world struggles with weak demand of the material, much of which comes from China.

An employee walks past columns of steel as she works at a steel production factory in Wuhan, Hubei province, August 2, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Seven countries or blocs, including the United States and the EU, called last month for action to address global steel overcapacity, but have failed to agree common measures with China.

EU Ambassador to China Hans Dietmar Schweisgut told reporters at a briefing that China’s measures to address steel overcapacity were “not going quite far enough”.

“Overcapacity, especially in the steel sector, is one of the issues which needs to be dealt with very urgently,” Schweisgut said. “This is something which cannot wait.”

China, the world’s top steel producer and exporter, is also the fifth-largest importer of steel, buying an equivalent of 13.57 million tonnes of crude steel last year.

A tighter steel market following shutdowns of Chinese mills in the past year and a seasonal pickup in demand helped spur prices in the past two months. But producers have since ramped up output and once-shut plants have also resumed production.

Beijing has said it has taken the toughest action to cut production and that the issue is a global one.

Schweisgut also urged China to open up its market to European investment in restricted industries such as automobiles and banking.

“Why is it possible that last year a Chinese institution bought a European bank, while it is not possible for a European bank to buy a Chinese one?” Schweisgut said.

Chinese officials have repeatedly pledged to lower market access barriers, but foreign industry groups say a list of prohibited and restricted industries for foreign investors is still too broad and must be cut back.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore