Chinese steel exports stayed above 9 million tons in April, a level which is likely to bolster objections that overcapacity is forcing mills to dump their surplus overseas.

Steel is just one of many sectors to inflame trade tensions as other nations raise concerns that Chinese production is excessive. The complaints from Washington and Brussels have zeroed in on clean energy, where China has stolen a march on its foreign competitors. But Beijing’s failure to adequately deal with historical overcapacity in its steel industry, the world’s largest, is once again coming to the fore as the prolonged crisis in the property market constrains domestic consumption.

Shipments hit 9.22 million tons last month, according to customs data on Thursday. Although that’s below the level posted in March, the 35 million tons exported in the first four months of the year is the biggest volume for the period since 2016.

At the same time, monthly imports of iron ore, the key feedstock for steelmaking, rose above 100 million tons for the third time this year. In another indication that domestic demand remains weak, much of the ore is piling up at ports, where inventories are running above seasonal norms.

A crackdown on the tax evasion that has helped fuel overseas sales could see steel exports decline in the next couple of months, according to Tomas Gutierrez, an analyst at Kallanish Commodities Ltd. But unless China cuts production, the total this year could still rise above 100 million tons, he said, a level that was last breached eight years ago when the trade row over steel was at its peak.

Copper Drops

Elsewhere in metals, China’s aluminum exports hit a three-month high, while copper imports fell from the prior month after a rally in international prices deterred buyers.

Fabricators have become reluctant to pay up given weak demand in China, which drove the premium on imports to zero for the first time in seven years last month. Smelters, which are starting to resemble their brethren in the steel industry, are turning to exports to soak up their excess production. 

For energy products, coal purchases rose to their highest this year as power plants continue to seek higher-quality fuel to offset the poorer-burning domestic varieties that have become abundant amid the rush to expand capacity in recent years. Natural gas imports remained strong as firms took advantage of a lull in global prices to begin replenishing inventories after the winter.

Crude oil imports fell from a seven-month high as refineries shut for seasonal maintenance after brisk buying earlier in the year.

Among agricultural goods, soybeans cargoes rose to their highest this year, while shipments of edible oils fell as higher overseas prices, mainly for palm oil, curbed China’s appetite and a sluggish economy continued to weigh on demand.

On the Wire

China’s exports rose slightly more than expected in April in a boost for the economy, and imports surged. But trade won’t offset weakness in domestic consumption and the drag from the housing slump, according to Bloomberg Economics.

Hangzhou, a major city in eastern China, removed all of its remaining homebuying curbs, the latest example of a local government pursuing aggressive easing to end the property crisis.

The groundswell of complaints about China’s factory output keeps getting louder, but there’s no sign Beijing is ready for fixes that might backfire on its vulnerable economy.

President Xi Jinping touted his nation’s ties with eastern Europe as a boon for the world’s No. 2 economy as he arrived on the final legs of a tour designed to promote China’s potential as a trade partner.

South32 Ltd. and Teck Resources Ltd. have agreed sharply improved terms for annual contracts to sell lead concentrates to Asian smelters, amid high spot demand from China.

More stories like this are available on