Based on preliminary Census Bureau data, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported that year-to-date steel imports of raw and finished steel were up 45% and 46%, respectively, through October 2006 compared to the same period in 2005. On an annualized basis these would easily surpass the all-time records set in 1998. Imports of oil country goods were up 18%, and line pipe 29% through October.

According to AISI, the rise in imports compared to the previous year remains pronounced for countries with a history of unfair trading, especially in Asia - including Thailand (up 165%), China (up 125%) and South Korea (up 61%). Year-to-date imports from Russia were up 106% vs. last year. In October, for the fourth month in a row, China was the single largest source of steel imports to the United States.

“With many of the same offenders that have a history of unfair trade continuing to send huge volumes of imports into the United States, it is critical for the U.S. government to strictly enforce the nation’s trade laws,” complained Louis Schorsch, CEO of Mittal Steel’s Flat Products Americas and chairman of AISI. “Failure to enforce our trade laws undermines the benefits that the recent consolidation and restructuring have achieved on behalf of all of our stakeholders.”

Global steel outlook

In related news, a report by the U.K.-based global metals tracking firm MEPS, “Global Iron and Steel Production to 2010,” contends that production of crude steel is gradually migrating away from the major steel-consuming regions, and into those countries that are rich in raw materials.

Iron ore today costs more than twice as much as it did three years ago. The annual contract price is widely tipped to go up again in 2007 - perhaps by as much as 10%. Coal prices have also increased. This puts raw material availability further up the list of strategic priorities facing steel industry executives.

The report says that steel production is not likely to see much future growth in Western industrial countries that do not have the advantage of natural resources, and where steel consumption is not expected to grow very much. Consequently, producers from the industrialized countries are increasingly switching their crude steel-making operations to low-cost regions.

MEPS said that the average annual growth in steel production in the first six years of this decade was 6%. Its forecast to 2010 indicates a similar figure. This contrasts with a production average annual growth rate of 0.6% in the 1980s and virtually no gain through the 1990s.

In 2006, real demand for steel went up considerably in the European Union, Russia, United States and China. In 2007, a correction is forecast in the European Union and NAFTA countries.

A full copy of the MEPS report can be obtained at