Based on preliminary Census Bureau data for December, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported that the United States imported a total of 35.7 million net tons of steel in 2004, including 28.3 net tons of finished steel. Imports in these categories increased 54.2% and 54.6%, respectively, compared with 2003.

The 2002 percentage gain for finished steel imports was more than three times the 15.9% increase in steel consumption. As a result, finished steel import market share rose from 16.0% to 21.2%.

“There is sufficient availability of steel in the U.S. market,” stated John Surma, president and CEO of U.S. Steel Corp. and chairman of AISI. “The industry has taken a lot of positive steps as market conditions have improved, but much remains to be done to complete needed investments and keep the momentum going.”

Separately, the UK-based steel consulting firm MEPS has calculated that world crude steel production finished 2004 at about 1.05 billion tons, an increase of 8.8% over the previous year - following rises of 6.2% and 6.7% in the preceding two years. MEPS forecasts a further increase in global steel output for 2005 at around 1.1 billion tons, another record.

MEPS also said that China's exports of stainless steel last year rose some 250% over the previous year, from around 155,000 tons to more than 387,000 tons.