India’s soda ash imports to touch record 9.5 lakh tonnes in FY20

Rutam Vora Ahmedabad | Updated on March 19, 2020 Published on March 19, 2020

A worker helps a crane transporting sacks of soda ash for export at a port in Lianyungang, China. (A representative image)   -  REUTERS

Amid plunging prices and higher inventories, producers face reduced margins, capacity utilisation

With continued cheap imports from Turkey, the US and other regions, India’s soda ash imports are set to cross 900,000 tonnes this fiscal, setting a record.

Though domestic players have been vociferously demanding safeguards against cheap imports of soda ash — the raw material for many end-use commodities — the government is yet to take a call. The domestic prices have already corrected by 15-17 per cent over the year, erasing the margins for domestic players.

Fall in prices

“Soda ash imports for the year could be a little more than 9 lakh tonnes, which is almost 25 per cent of the Indian demand,” RS Jalan, Managing Director, GHCL, told Businessline. “On one side, there are surplus inventories with the producers and some are cutting down on production, and, on the other, the imports continue to surge. The fall in prices is primarily because of cheap imports, which are the major challenge before the sector.”

Rising inventories are adding to the burden on domestic soda ash producers, forcing them to cut down on output.

Besides GHCL, Nirma, DCW Ltd, RSPL Ltd and Tata Chemicals are India’s top soda ash producers with a combined installed capacity of about 39 lakh tonnes per annum as of March 31, 2019. Production during 2018-19 was recorded at 31.81 lakh tonnes.

According to Alkali Manufacturers Association of India (AMAI) data, India’s soda ash imports in FY16 were at 5.92 lakh tonnes, which increased to 8.38 lakh tonnes in FY19. But, in FY20, the imports have already touched 8.85 lakh tonnes (as of February). The imports are mostly consumed by end user industries such as soap and detergent makers and glass makers.

Notably, the end user market for soda ash is growing at a steady 6-7 per cent.

“More imports are coming in from Turkey and US. These countries have soda ash capacities many times more than their own consumption. They also have huge reserves of natural soda ash. This year imports will be the highest and may cross 9.5 lakh tonnes,” said K Srinivasan, Secretary General, AMAI.

Falling capacity utilisation

He added that the industry is facing a tough time with rising volumes of imports at the cost of capacity utilisation of the domestic industry, which has fallen to an average of 78-79 per cent, against 81 per cent six months ago. The capacity utilisation was 87.5 per cent in FY19.

Notably, countries such as Turkey and the US, which have been opposing India’s protectionist stand, are dumping cheap soda ash in the country, said industry insiders.

Turkey has an installed capacity of about 5 million tonnes per annum while its consumption is very low. The US, on the other hand, is suffering from an economic slowdown. This makes the two look to India for a readily-available market for its soda ash output.

Published on March 19, 2020
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