India’s steel trade deficit widened to ₹8,888 crore, one of the highest in recent times, as the country continued to be a net importer for the first nine months of the fiscal. The deficit widened by 272 per cent-odd sequentially or by ₹6,495 crore in a one-month-period.

Import of finished steel for Apr–Dec stood at 5.6 million tonnes (mt)–up 26.4 per cent y-o-y, exceeded exports at 4.7 mt – down 1.4 per cent YoY, by 0.9 mt, as per a report of the Steel Ministry, accessed by businessline.  

In terms of value, imports stood at ₹48,027 crore whereas exports stood at ₹39,139 crore. 

Trade deficit for April–Nov was ₹2,393 crore and India was a net importer by 0.3 mt.

“....For April-December 2023, domestic finished steel production stood at 102.196 mt (up by 14.1 per cent) and domestic consumption was at 99.991 mt (up by 14.8 per cent). India was a net importer of total finished steel with imports outpacing exports,” the report said. 

Volume wise, hot rolled coils and strips (2.272 mt) was the item most imported (41 per cent share in total finished steel).

Korea back as top importer

Ministry report shows, Korea was back as the top importer of finished steel with 1.77 mt of shipment coming in, an increase of five per cent over last year. Hot rolled coils and strips, cold rolled strips and galvanised plates and coils were amongst the highest shipped items. 

China, however, slid down to number two, with 1.75 mt of shipments coming-in, up by 62 per cent y-o-y. Shipments coming in were 1.08 mt in the year-ago-period. Galvanised plates, coils and sheets, pipes and (steel) plates were amongst the max shipped items. 

Imports from Japan increased 38 per cent to 0.8 mt while Vietnam saw a 486 per cent increase to 0.5 mt, for the period under review. 

According to TV Narendran, CEO and MD, Tata Steel, production ramp-ups had happened (in China) and “all of that found its way to the export markets” since the domestic market there did not recover on expected lines. 

“The Chinese steel industry is not really making money. Their profitability is not great. And hence you’ve also seen Chinese steel prices go up about $30 during December. So either prices have to start moving up or they have to start cutting production at some point in time. We expect a better balance on Chinese production versus demand this year than we saw last year,” he said during an earnings call. 

Europe drives export demand

The Ministry report also adds that three European nations – Italy, Spain and Belgium – were amongst the top three export markets, apart from Nepal and UAE

Exports to Italy – the largest for the first nine months of the fiscal – was 0.93 mt, up 53 per cent y-o-y; whereas in case of Belgium, shipments rose by 29 per cent to 0.49 mt. Orders to Spain rose 75 per cent y-o-y to 0.4 mt. 

France and Germany are two other European markets, but continued to be much smaller (reporting shipments of 24,000 tonnes each) in comparison to the other three nations. 

Nepal was the second largest export market for Indian mills at 0.5 mt, up 31 per cent. 

Incidentally, the UAE market continued to remain under stress witnessing a 36 per cent drop y-o-y to 0.38 mt. 

“Volume-wise, hot rolled coil and strip (1.634 mt) was the most exported item (accounting for) 35 per cent share in total finished steel,” the Ministry report says.