The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported that total steel imports were down 5% in 2008 and finished steel imports fell 3%, based on preliminary figures.

Nonetheless, despite contraction in China’s steel industry, Chinese imports of finished steel in the Fourth quarter of 2008 would annualize at 7.2 million tons; this would be 1.7 million tons higher than the record amount of U.S. steel imports from China set in 2006. Of particular concern is that the China import surge in the fourth quarter took place at a time when U.S. end use market demand and domestic steel production were both down significantly.

AISI warned that in 2009 there could be further surges of direct and indirect steel imports from China - a country with enormous overcapacity in steel and related industries, and whose own economy is slowing dramatically.

In related news, U.S. small diameter welded steel line pipe producers Tex Tube Co. TMK IPSCO Tubulars, Northwest Pipe, ACIPCO, and Stupp Corp. applauded the U.S. International Trade Commission’s unanimous affirmative injury determination in December that subsidized imports of small diameter welded line pipe 16-inch O.D. and under from China injured or threatened the domestic industry. The vote will allow the Dept. of Commerce to issue a countervailing duty order to offset Chinese government subsidies ranging from 35% to 40%. The petition was filed last April.