Steel industry in China - statistics and facts

Modern life depends on steel. Infrastructure, buildings, and cars require huge amounts of iron and steel in the production process. During its modernization process, China has built up a gigantic production capacity for iron and steel and is by way the largest steel producer worldwide with a production volume of nearly 930 million metric tons of crude steel in 2018. Although China consumes the largest share of the produced steel itself, export also plays a major role for Chinese steelmakers. Controversial accusations have long been voiced that state subsidized Chinese steel mills are flooding the world market with cheap steel at dumping prices. In recent years, the Chinese government has taken steps to cut industry overcapacities. This has hardly affected China’s global share in crude steel production, which has continued to grow and surpassed 50 percent in 2017.

The amount of steel China consumes itself is difficult to assess. Not only do imports and exports have to be taken into consideration, but the indirect trade in steel, embedded in products partly made of steel like machinery, cars, or white goods, needs to be included as well. Apparent steel use (ASU), an indicator developed by the World Steel Association to measure steel demand and is expressed as deliveries minus net exports, stood at more than 680 million metric tons of finished steel products for China in 2016. True steel use (TSU), which additionally takes into account the volume of net indirect trade, and therefore comes close to the actual amount of steel products consumed in China, amounted to nearly 620 million metric tons of finished steel products in 2016.

The Chinese steel industry is not only dependent on the global market for sales, but also for supply of raw materials, especially iron ore. Although China domestically mines large quantities of iron ore and possesses the fourth largest reserves of iron ore in the world, its iron ore is of low quality and contains only relatively low quantities of iron. Therefore, China is heavily reliant on the global iron ore supply, being by way the largest importer of iron ore worldwide. Imports are coming mainly from Australia and Brazil, these two countries together making up nearly 90 percent of total iron ore imports to China. In recent years, recycling has played a growing part in steelmaking in China, as the Chinese government has tried to increase the recycling rate of steel scrap. Although still low compared to other countries, the recycling rate of steel scrap used in crude steel production reached 20 percent in 2018 and will further increase in the coming years.

Faced with overcapacities in domestic and global markets, the steel industry in China is going through a phase of thorough restructuring. A prime example of this restructuring process is the merger of Baosteel Group and Wuhan Iron and Steel in 2016, forming China Baowu Steel Group. It is the largest steel producer in China and only second to ArcelorMittal in the world. In May 2019, Baowu Group obtained a controlling stake in the listed entity of Maanshan Iron and Steel, which brought Baowu closer to its goal of becoming a steel giant with more than 100 million metric tons of annual output volume. Although many steel enterprises in China are state-owned, like Baowu, having only parts of their companies listed on the stock exchange, there are also many private steelmakers in China, the largest being Shagang Group from Jiangsu province.

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Steel industry in China

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