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China 2020 iron ore imports hit record on robust post-virus demand

China’s iron ore imports hit a record high in 2020, jumping 9.5% from a year earlier as the country beefed up spending on infrastructure to spur an economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic and manufacturing increased.

China, the world’s top steel producer, imported 1.17 billion tonnes of iron ore in 2020, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Thursday.

That beat annual imports of 1.069 billion tonnes in 2019 and the previous record of 1.075 billion tonnes set in 2017.

“The jump came as overseas consumption (of iron ore) plunged, while China had strong demand,” said Wang Yingwu, chief analyst with Huatai Futures in Beijing.

While most of the world has been battling the coronavirus in 2020, idling blast furnaces and announcing job cuts, China expected full-year steel output of one billion tonnes following a rapid recovery from the pandemic.

Capacity utilisation rates at 163 mills across China have been hovering at above year-ago levels since the second half of 2020 to meet increasing demand for steel products used in infrastructure and the manufacturing sector.

Benchmark iron ore futures prices on the Dalian Commodity Exchange rose more than 50% last year.

Wang noted that China’s December purchases, at 96.75 million tonnes, were down 1.4% from November and 4.5% lower than a year ago.

“That proved the global recovery now is better than our expectation, which could last this year,” he added.

China’s steel products exports fell 16.5% to 53.67 million tonnes in 2020 from a year ago, the customs data showed.

Its steel imports, meanwhile, jumped 64.4% to 20.23 million tonnes last year.

The China Iron and Steel Association had called earlier this year for more imports of semi-finished steel products and fewer exports of normal steel products.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Min Zhang and Shivani Singh; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Richard Pullin)

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