Polish demand falters, alternative origins replace Russian imports

Polish steel consumption saw a big drop in 2022. Although imports from Russia fell significantly amid sanctions, intake from countries that have not sanctioned Russia rose sharply, Polish Steel Association (HIPH) chief executive Mirosław Motyka pointed out at an industry event on Wednesday.

Poland, which for many years stood out with steel production and consumption growth while other EU countries reported declines, has now also joined the downtrend. Crude steel output and apparent steel consumption fell 14% and 12% respectively on-year in 2022. The latter was at 13.3 million tonnes after record use of 15.3mt in 2021.

Despite non-EU-origin imports falling 27% on-year in 2022 to 3.06mt, imports took a larger share in demand, resulting in the loss of $6 billion of local steel production, enough to invest in a small modular reactor, Motyka said at the European Economic Congress in Katowice attended by Kallanish.

Although Russia-origin steel imports fell to 467,000t in 2022 from 1.63mt in 2021, intake increased from China, Turkey, India and Indonesia. These countries still import steel from Russia, resulting in a form of EU sanctions circumvention, Motyka suggested. Interestingly, Serbia, which also does not levy Russia sanctions, became Poland’s fourth-largest non-EU steel supplier last year with 194,000t.

At the same time, Polish steel demand is dropping amid a “crisis” in the residential housing industry, Motyka observed. The construction sector overall accounted for 42% of Polish apparent steel consumption in 2022.

Polish steel distributor association PUDS’s ceo Iwona Dybał meanwhile said steel inventories have been at low levels since last July and there are no signs of restocking, meaning her sector does not expect a demand rebound. Last December, Polish consumption fell to a record monthly low below 700,000t.

However, asked if the war has seen Ukraine increase steel supply to Poland, Dybał said Ukraine’s steel production was only 6.3mt last year, with around 600,000t of exports to Poland versus 1.2mt a year earlier. EU safeguards on Ukraine are suspended, but imports have anyway been nowhere close to reaching the thresholds. “If there were safeguards and no war, there would probably be more Ukrainian steel coming to Poland – so Ukrainian steel is not flooding the Polish market,” she commented.

Stalprofil ceo Henryk Orczykowski agreed demand has dropped since last July amid a lack of public and private investment. He foresees the second and third quarters remaining difficult and said distributors are counting on the unblocking of EU funds to spur demand from investment projects.

Adam Smith Poland