IREPAS in Warsaw: Confusion and uncertainty in the global market

The 78th meeting of IREPAS (International Rebar Exporters and Producers Association) was held in Warsaw, Poland on May 6-8, 2018. There were 117 producer representatives among the 320 registered delegates from 48 different countries. There were also 62 registrations representing 40 different raw material suppliers.

At the opening of the conference, Murat Cebecioglu, chairman of IREPAS emphasized that there is obvious confusion and uncertainty in the global long steel products market triggered by the announcement of new tariffs on steel imports by President Trump as a result of the Section 232 investigation in the US, the subsequent exemptions from these tariffs, and the resulting safeguard investigation announced in the EU. Mr. Cebecioglu added that it has become extremely difficult to make business decisions as the prevailing question in the markets is, “What’s going to happen next?”.

On the last day of the conference, producers of long steel products and steel billets, as well as traders and raw material suppliers, shared the conclusions reached at their special committee meetings regarding the current situation in the markets with the general participants at the event.

Raw Material Suppliers at IREPAS: Chinese scrap exports not a long-term threat

Mr. Jens Björkman, the chairman of the raw material suppliers committee, stated that since 2015 a rebound has been seen in commodities, as well as scrap, mainly driven by China. He added that most scrap suppliers are worried about the growth in Chinese scrap generation and that the shift in Chinese production to electric arc furnaces might not be quick enough to accommodate the rise in scrap supply. According to Mr. Björkman, there will no long-term exports of Chinese scrap, which will be used in the domestic industry as much as possible.

Mr. Björkman indicated that the EU has seen better-than-expected growth, while the US has performed very well with solid domestic market demand amid the Section 232 tariffs. The raw materials committee chairman said that there is still uncertainty in the market on account of protectionism. He said that, as the uncertainty caused by Section 232 is better for the US domestic market, the discussions of the tariff itself boosted domestic demand and steel production in the US even prior to the implementation of the tariff. Accordingly, he expects that the final decision might be delayed until after the June 1 deadline. Regarding the Turkish steel market, Mr. Björkman said that it is characterized by political uncertainty due to the early election, the weaker lira and shorter lead times.

The committee chairman concluded that, if there is a global trade war, then everybody will be a loser, adding that he does not believe the intentions are to start a trade war.

Traders at IREPAS: Chinese exports will be modest, if not absolutely absent

Mr. Wilhelm Alff, the chairman of the traders committee, said that the main topics discussed during the traders committee meeting were the tariffs in the US and the safeguard investigations launched in the EU and also lately in Turkey. He said he thinks that the EU will wait until the final announcement from the US to conclude its own investigation.

The traders committee chairman stated that, despite the 25 percent duty on imports, the US has to import rebar as they are not self-sufficient, though he also pointed out that Turkey, the biggest rebar exporter to the US, is unlikely to gain an exemption from the tariffs.

Regarding the outlook for Chinese exports, basis the reports that China will continue to close down unproductive and illegal plants and will shift production to electric arc furnaces, and that the EAF capacity they are going to build is about 40-50 million mt, while they will be reducing other capacity at the same time at a very similar rate, and there will be a surplus of 20 million mt, Mr. Alff said that while it might sound a lot for the EU, for example, is relatively small for China in terms of overall demand. The traders committee chairman said he thinks that the Chinese have learnt their lesson already, i.e., that the risk of antidumping duty is always there. He said that the Chinese are building new plants for their own consumption, adding that they will not be absolutely absent from the export scene but their contribution will be modest.

Steel Producers at IREPAS: Sentiment for rest of 2018 is very positive

Mr. Murat Cebecioglu, chairman of IREPAS and also of the producers committee, said that at the producers committee meeting everyone agreed that there is demand in the long steel market but also obstacles, adding that the two main worries are what China will do and where this current protectionism will take us. He indicated that sentiment was very positive for the remainder of 2018.

Regarding the Section 232 extension, Mr. Cebecioglu said that there might be some further extensions to the Section 232 deadline in order to see what the other countries are going to do. He added that it is a dangerous game the US is playing, saying that everyone needs clarity. He also pointed out that with the tariffs the US is targeting a capacity utilization of 75 percent, though they will still need to import at this rate.

Mr. Cebecioglu stressed that these trade disputes are not sustainable, stating that they have to end somewhere. According to the IREPAS chairman, if the EU is exempt from the duties after June 1 and rest of the world is not, it will create a problem for Turks as a major exporter. However, he went on to say that, if everyone gets 25 percent, then Turkey will still have a chance to export rebar to the US. He also said that a 25 percent duty rate across the board would be more fair compared to quotas granted for some countries.

Mr. Cebecioglu also commented on the removal of the import duty on Turkish rebar, stating, “We have not seen a real threat at the moment but we know small volumes are coming to Turkey. As of now, there is a safeguard investigation in Turkey. We have to protect what is ours.”

Responding to a question about the graphite electrode shortage, the producers committee chairman said the shortage has been relieved to some extent, though the steel industry needs more and more electrodes due to the new electric arc furnaces being built. He also indicated that the cost of electrodes is rising also because of higher needle coke prices.

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