China’s 2021 semi-finished steel imports fall 25% on year from high base in 2020
China’s semi-finished steel imports fell 24.5% year on year to 13.759 million mt in 2021, China’s Customs data showed Jan. 21, due mainly to a higher base in 2020, when China was a net steel importer over June-September while overseas markets were in lockdown.
Finished steel imports fell 29.5% over the same period to 14.268 million mt, the customs data showed.
Imports of semi-finished steel saw some improvement in the fourth quarter of 2021 and were expected to continue to increase in March and April, but total steel imports in 2022 were not expected to exceed 2021 levels, market sources said.
China’s total steel imports stood at 28.027 million mt in 2021, down 27.1% year on year, the customs data showed.
In December, China’s semi-finished steel imports retreated to 1.172 million mt after touching a 14-month high of 1.832 million mt in November.
Some sources said semi-finished steel imports may improve again from late February due to a decline in billet import prices in November and December triggering bookings.
The monthly average of China’s billet import price fell to $604/mt CFR in December and $601/mt CFR in November from $687/mt CFR in October, S&P Global Platts data showed.
Importers were also optimistic about a recovery in Chinese domestic steel demand in March and April as China’s accelerated fiscal spending was expected to boost infrastructure steel demand.
However, some demand concerns remain from mid-year through late 2022 as high local government debt could limit infrastructure improvement.
While China’s easing of financing in the property sector would cushion a slowdown, the measures were unlikely to reverse a downtrend in the sector.
China’s overall steel demand in 2022 may remain stable or drop slightly below 2021 levels, and steel imports were therefore unlikely to improve from 2021, sources said.
However the country will continue to cap domestic steel production in 2022, in line with decarbonization plans.
China may not see any further tightening of its steel export policies in 2022, but output cuts in the year would keep steel exports within 2021 levels, according to sources.
The country’s net exports of semi-finished and finished steel rose 155% year on year to 38.903 million mt in 2021.