Chinese steelmakers are hunting new export destinations in Africa and South America as shipments to their biggest overseas buyers in Southeast Asia fall by double digits, with new U.S. trade actions threatening to kill off some markets entirely.
The world’s largest maker, consumer, and exporter of steel is finding it has fewer export options. The U.S. last week imposed hefty tariffs on major steel exporters to the United States, including Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, prompting retaliatory measures.
The global tariffs kicked off in March were mainly aimed at curbing Chinese steel imports, which U.S. steelmakers also believe are being routed through other countries before landing in the United States.
“The Southeast Asian market is getting crowded. More and more people are seeking to find new markets, especially in South American and African countries,” said Steven Yue, sales manager at Hebei Huayang Pipeline Co, a Chinese exporter of steel pipes.
“We plan to work harder to develop the South American and African market from the second half of this year.”
Exports to Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and the continent’s top buyer of Chinese steel, rose 15 percent in the first quarter, and shipments to Algeria, the fourth-largest economy, nearly tripled. In South America, Chinese shipments to Brazil jumped 40 percent and climbed almost tenfold to Bolivia.
South America and Africa accounted for a combined eight percent of China’s steel exports last year, and shipments to some nations there have surged this year. Southeast Asia accounted for a quarter of China’s exports last year, but was down 45 percent from the year before, and slipped by a third in the first quarter of 2018, according to data tracked by MEPS.
Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department slapped heavy import duties on steel products from Vietnam it says originated in China, hitting China’s second export market after South Korea, and a major outlet for sales by Chinese mills that own warehouses in Vietnam.
Vietnam said its steel companies would likely stop buying the metal from China to avoid having their shipments to the United States penalized.
Chris Jackson, an analyst at UK-based steel consultancy MEPS International Ltd said: “It is increasingly apparent that export opportunities for Chinese producers are becoming increasingly limited, owing to existing trade legislation, lodged by many parts of the world.”
While China’s steel exports hit an eight-month high in April, shipments for the first four months of the year dropped by 20 percent, although falling only 2.5 percent in value.