Japan, South Korea tighten grip over Indian steel imports: government data

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Japan and South Korea strengthened their grip on the Indian steel market in April, supplying nearly three-fifths of the total imports, according to government data seen by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: A worker observes an electric furnace inside a steel factory on the outskirts of Jammu February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta/File photo

The increasing inroads the foreign steelmakers are making will add to pressure on the Indian government to take protectionist measures to support local mills. Indian steelmakers have been lobbying New Delhi for such backing in recent weeks.

India, the world’s second biggest steel producer, relies on imports to meet demand for high-grade steel required for automobiles and white goods.

Japan and South Korea together supplied about 57% of India’s 630,000 tonnes of steel imports in April, compared with about 45% in the same month a year ago, the provisional data showed.

Free trade treaties with Japan and South Korea allow tax free imports from the two nations, giving them an edge over others.

Steel imports from Japan in April jumped 27% to 116,000 tonnes from the same month year ago, while Korean imports rose 15% percent to 245,000 tonnes, the data showed.

Overall, India’s steel imports fell 6.1% in April from a year earlier but the world’s second-biggest steel producer retained the net importer tag for a second month in a row as exports also slowed during the month, the data showed.

Major steel producers, such as Japan, South Korea and China are keen to capture growing demand hubs like India after being blocked from markets in the United States and Europe by tariffs and other protectionist measures.

India’s steel imports from China declined 29% to 88,000 tonnes in April but imports from Asian trading hub Singapore rose 77% to 23,000 tonnes, data showed. Industry sources said perhaps China, already locked in a trade war with the U.S., is shipping some of its steel to India through Singapore.

Government officials are already discussing injecting so- called safeguard measures to protect local steel mills from cheaper Chinese imports, sources told Reuters earlier this month.

“If this trend continues, millions of jobs will be lost. This will make operations unviable for domestic producers. A comprehensive assessment by the government is critical at this juncture,” said Abhyuday Jindal, managing director of Jindal Stainless, the country’s largest stainless steel producer.

India has also lost some of its global clients to cheaper steel exports from China, Japan and South Korea.

India’s steel exports declined 17.8% to 580,000 tonnes in April from a year earlier due to fewer shipments to its traditional markets of Belgium and Italy, the data showed.

India’s annual steel consumption in April increased 6.4% to 7.5 million tonnes, the data showed. On a monthly basis, local demand for steel in April fell 21% from March, the steepest monthly drop in three years, indicating a slump in infrastructure and industrial activity.

India is yet to release its infrastructure and industrial output data for April.

Reporting by Neha Dasgupta; Editing by Nidhi Verma and Martin Howell