China warns metals firms not to race back from virus

(Reuters) - China’s industry ministry said on Friday metals firms should not seek to ramp up production at all costs and should “avoid vicious competition” with one another as they return to work in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Industrial production in China, the world’s biggest metals consumer, took a big hit from the epidemic, with movement of people and commodities restricted in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus, meaning companies did not have enough staff or in some cases raw materials to operate as normal.

But the China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association last week said 76.5% of its more than 1,000 members had gone back to work.

"Resuming work and resuming production do not mean going all-out," the Ministry of Industry Information and Technology (MIIT) said in a statement that summarized a video conference on Thursday with some of the country's biggest metal producers, including Aluminum Corp of China, or Chinalco, China Minmetals Corp and Jiangxi Copper 600362.SS.

“We must respect the laws of the market (and) organize production in accordance with demand,” the ministry said. Metal consumption has been weak since the extended Lunar New Year holiday due to factory closures.

But the ministry warned that producers should not lose sight of environmental and safety issues as they focus on restoring output.

“The greater the pressure on production and operations, the greater the importance we attach to ecological and environmental protection and safe production,” it said.

Other participants in the meeting included representatives from Henan Yuguang Gold and Lead, Zijin Mining 601899.SS, the Shanghai Steel Union and the CNIA.

In a separate statement, the ministry said it had also held an online meeting with China’s top steelmakers to discuss recent operations and predicted changes in steel demand and iron ore prices, without providing further details.

Reporting by Tom Daly and Min Zhang;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle