Chinese steel exports fall to six-year low

China’s iron and steel exports remained subdued in December, keeping the total for the year below 65 million tonnes for the first time since 2013. Almost all major regions saw Chinese export volumes fall in 2019, except for South Korea, Sub-Saharan Africa and Russia, Kallanish notes.

In December, total iron and steel imports were up 2.4% month-on-month but down -15.6% year-on-year at 4.687 million tonnes, according to detailed Chinese customs data. That left exports over the full year down -6.32% y-o-y at 64.379mt.

South Korea cemented its place as the main destination for Chinese steel exports, with volumes over the year up 16.6% at 8.299mt. That remained well below the peak of 14.35mt in 2016 however. Elsewhere in Asia most large markets saw declines. Exports to Southeast Asia overall were down -9.88% in 2019 to 21.56mt, and down from a peak of 39.134mt in 2016. Within that however there were some growth markets. Exports to Indonesia were up 9% to 3.351mt, while exports to Thailand were up 9.59% to 3.774mt. Exports to China’s largest Southeast Asian market, Vietnam, fell -14.9% to 5.949mt, down from a peak of 11.704mt in 2016.

Exports to South Asia continued to fall sharply as competitive Indian exports added to difficulties from India’s import barriers. Exports to South Asia were down -17.8% to 4.447mt. Exports to the Middle East fell by just -2.2% to 6.252mt, while those to North Africa fell -11.6% to 1.29mt. The region with the largest contribution to higher volumes was from Sub-Saharan Africa, where volumes were up 4.97% y-o-y to 4.804mt.

Russia was one of the few other markets to see strong growth in shipments. Chinese exports there were up 26.5% y-o-y at 927,394t. Overall however, the market remains minor for China. Exports to the European Union (including the UK for now) were down -19.8% at 3.238mt. 

To the Americas meanwhile, volumes were mostly falling. Overall volumes were down 16.4% to 7.742mt. Of that, volumes to Nafta were down 29.7% to 1.705mt, while volumes to South America were down 9.82% to 4.676mt.