China's finished steel exports reached 90.264 million metric tons in 2023, marking a remarkable 36.2% YoY increase. Fueled by local demand slowdown and elevated production, this volume represents the highest since 2016. Projections for 2024 indicate ambitious export plans, though some decline is anticipated. Shifting strategies emerge as mills target high-end products, like CRC and plate, in response to challenges posed by non-VAT trading's price impact on ordinary products.
In a dynamic twist of steel dynamics, China reported a substantial surge in finished steel exports, reaching a staggering 90.264 million metric tons in 2023. This remarkable 36.2% year-on-year increase, the highest since 2016, reflects the intricate dance between local demand shifts and sustained high production levels.
As per data released by China's General Administration of Customs (GACC) on January 12, the surge is attributed to both domestic factors and the country's strategic positioning in the global steel market. The slowdown in local demand, coupled with the persistently high production levels, created an opportune environment for increased exports.
Looking ahead to 2024, Chinese steel producers maintain ambitious export plans, although a modest decline is anticipated. "Mills can't sustain 90 million metric tons of exports for an extended period, but this year, I believe we will still see 80 million metric tons or slightly higher, which is well above the levels observed in the previous years from 2019 to 2022," remarked a trader familiar with the industry.
However, a nuanced shift in strategy is underway among some mills as they navigate the complexities of the export markets. Ordinary products face challenges from non-VAT trading, where prices consistently remain low, prompting a strategic pivot. A representative from a prominent Chinese mill stated, "Ordinary products are not our target anymore as the market is destroyed by non-VAT trading. We need to change strategy to face that, so our target is CRC, plate, and other high-end products, where non-VAT sellers are not involved."
In December of the previous year, China experienced a marginal decline in finished steel exports by 3.5% month-on-month, amounting to 7.728 million metric tons. However, this still represented a robust 43.1% YoY increase, showcasing the resilience of the industry. During the same period, finished steel imports totaled 665,000 metric tons, marking an 8.3% monthly increase and a 5% yearly decrease.
Throughout 2023, China's finished steel imports amounted to 7.645 million metric tons, witnessing a significant 27.6% YoY decline. This interplay of export and import dynamics paints a vibrant picture of China's evolving role in the global steel landscape.
China's steel industry stands at a crossroads, navigating the complexities of surging exports and evolving market dynamics. The remarkable surge in finished steel exports in 2023, reaching the highest levels since 2016, signals the industry's resilience amid local demand shifts and elevated production. As the industry sets its sights on