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EU hits China, Russia with new steel probes

(London Post)    The EU’s executive arm is tightening the screws on ‘artificially cheap imports’ as European steelmakers are feeling the pinch of a global commodity glut that is threatening thousands of jobs throughout the bloc.

The European Commission on Friday identified the main culprits as China and Russia, saying it was launching an investigation into “unfair competition” practices. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem accused the two countries of unfairly undercutting prices by flooding European markets with cheap steel.

“We cannot allow unfair competition from artificially cheap imports to threaten our industry,” Malmstroem said in a statement, announcing provisional anti-dumping duties on cold-rolled flat steel from China and Russia. The levies range from 13.8 to 16 percent on Chinese companies, and from 19.8 to 26.2 percent on Russian firms.

Malmstroem also announced separate probes into seamless pipes, heavy plates and hot-rolled flat steel from China. The latest steps take the total number of steel-related trade defence measures to 37, with nine investigations currently underway.

“I am determined to use all means possible to ensure that our trading partners play by the rules,” she added, while also warning that EU trade action alone will not solve the steel sector’s woes.

The investigation comes after seven of the bloc’s biggest steel producers last week called on the Commission to do more to protect the embattled industry. It also comes after Malmstroem last month wrote a letter to Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng, urging him to “take all appropriate measures to curb the steel overcapacity and other causes aggravating the situation” to avoid further probes.

The EU is the second-largest producer of steel in the world, accounting for more than 177 million tons every year at some 500 sites across 23 member states. But European companies have come under intense pressure from global overproduction and international competition, leading Luxembourg-based world leader ArcelorMittal to blame China for forcing massive layoffs at its sites following a whopping $8 billion (7.1 billion euros) loss in 2015.

ThyssenKrupp is the latest victim of the global glut. Just a year after booking a net profit of 54 million euros, the German steel producing giant on Friday posted a stinging net loss of 23 million euros in the first quarter of its current business year, which runs from October to September. According to the company, “the main reason for this was continued high import pressure.”

China accounts for half of global steel production, but domestic demand has dropped sharply as itseconomy appears to have run out of steam. As a result, the world’s second-largest economy has tried to offload its overcapacity abroad. While Beijing says it aims to cut production by as much as 150 million tons over the next five years, experts have dismissed such plans as insufficient, saying China would need to cut more than double that to normalize production levels.

pad/hg (AFP, dpa)

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