EghtesadOnline: Steel trade wars are looming across the world, as over 150 lawsuits were filed just last year.
Iran’s largest flat producer Mobarakeh Steel Company was recently caught up in an escalating conflict with the European Union over exports of hot-rolled coil to the green continent.
The case has been going on for more than a year now. The latest decision by the European Commission was to set a minimum import price of €472 per ton on HRC from Iran, as well as Russia, Ukraine and Brazil.
There have been mixed reactions to the decision in the EU and Iran alike. Interestingly, MSC remains unfazed, according to Financial Tribune.
Financial Tribune reached out to the company’s head of exports, Alireza Mansouri, to learn about MSC’s next moves and strategy after the EC episode.
The case was first publicized on July 7, 2016, and investigations started. The period under review was from June 22, 2015, to June 20, 2016, during which MSC exported about 1 million tons of steel to Europe, Mansouri told us in a phone interview.
“We had already completed the required forms and documents and presented our case [to the EC] when last October, a delegation from the commission visited the five countries under investigation, including Iran. Based on what they had witnessed, they were supposed to announce their decision by April 7 and slap preliminary duties. However, they did not reach a definite decision because our defense was solid. They actually crossed us off the retroactive duties list,” he added.
Following the April indecision, the case was postponed for six months for further investigation and the European Commission’s minimum import price decision was announced recently.
According to Mansouri, the decision was meant to “protect everyone’s interests in the EU, including users and producers, and that is why no tariffs were introduced”.
“European downstream users were against duties [on HRC imports] as higher prices are obviously to their disadvantage. You have to consider that duties were already levied on Chinese HRC before this investigation started, and the five countries under investigation accounted for about 70% of the EU’s steel imports during the period,” he said.
Mansouri noted that MSC has until August 7 to present its stance on the MIP decision to EC.
However, what caused Mobarakeh, a proven local supplier, to become a flat-exporting powerhouse in the first place?
“There was a crisis in the global steel market in 2015. It was caused by China, as it started shipping its excess capacity all over the world. We were affected too, as local prices took a nosedive. Naturally, consumers flocked to much cheaper Chinese offerings and we started to boost exports for some months to be able to maintain production. That’s when dumping allegations started to float,” he said.
Mansouri noted that MSC will not have a high tonnage of exports in the future, as its priority lies with the local market.
Not Only Unfazed But Also Content
The EC’s decision to set an MIP was the best possible outcome for MSC, the company’s head of exports said.
“With today’s prices in the EU and the ongoing uptrend in prices, the minimum import price will be no trouble and we won’t be hit by any duties,” he said, adding that MIP will further boost prices in Europe.
He stressed that MSC’s prices are not expected to drop below the set threshold–that is unless a crisis similar to what unfolded in 2015 hits the markets, which is “frankly, unlikely”.
Bahram Sobhani, the company’s managing director, recently announced that even if that were to occur, MSC has alternative markets in Africa and South Asian countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.
European distributors have also welcomed the decision.
“The introduction of MIP is a victory for buyers,” Tommaso Sandrini, president of Italian steel distributors’ association Assofermet, was quoted as saying by Metal Bulletin.
Italy is one of the main destination markets for Iranian steel. In fact, when the trade tussle started in July last year, a consortium of steel companies, mainly from Italy and across Europe, was established by Assofermet to maintain competition in the EU steel market.
Not everyone is happy, though. “The MIP is just a cosmetic measure,” a representative of German steelmaker Salzgitter AG told Metal Bulletin.
“The decision is not adequate, especially with regard to the complex product definition–there are more than 1,000 different forms of [HRC] product.”
A German distributor said, “The effective import prices should be below MIP to be workable at the moment. If you add all the transportation and other costs, in the end, you will get a price of roughly €500 per ton [delivered]. Why should people be interested in imports if there is a sufficient and competitive supply from domestic mills?–at least for now?”
Metal Bulletin’s weekly base price assessment for domestic HRC in Northern Europe was unchanged at €500-520 per ton ex-works on July 26.
And the assessment for similar material in Southern Europe moved up to €460-470 per ton ex-works this week, compared with €450-470 per ton ex-works a week earlier.