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Congressional Research Service, "China’s Steel Industry and Its Impact on the United States: Issues for Congress," September 21, 2010

Rachel Tang, an analyst in industrial organization and business, wrote this article.
September 21, 2010

China’s steel industry has grown significantly since the mid-1990s. China is now the world’s largest steelmaker and steel consumer. In 2009, China produced over 567 million tons of crude steel, nearly half of the world’s steel. That was 10 times the U.S. production.

The majority of Chinese steel has been used to meet domestic demand in China. However, as its steel production continues to grow, overcapacity is becoming a major concern to Chinese industrial policy makers, as well as steelmakers outside China. Although industry statistics indicate that the Chinese steel industry is not export-oriented, its consistently high output keeps U.S. steelmakers concerned that excess Chinese steel might overwhelm the global market once domestic demand is adequately met. These concerns become increasingly acute as the United States and the rest of the world are in the middle of a slow recovery from the economic recession started in December 2007.

The Chinese steel industry is highly fragmented, with more than 1,000 steel producers, which makes the domestic market highly competitive and difficult to control. Its growth also faces constraints such as dependence on imported iron ore and high energy consumption. The Chinese government has shown interest in stepping up its efforts to rein in steel overcapacity and to consolidate and restructure the steel industry. However, it remains to be seen if the government’s efforts and measures are to produce sufficient or meaningful results.

The possibility of surplus steel from Chinese steel producers; their alleged questionable, if not illegal, trade practices; and the possibility of Chinese direct investment in the U.S. steel sector are all of major concern to the steelmakers in the United States.

Steelmakers in the United States believe that China’s government subsidization of its steel (in the form of an undervalued currency, export rebates and/or quotas, subsidized financing, relatively weak environmental, labor, and safety regulations, etc.) is one of the key issues affecting the health of the U.S. steel sector. There have been multiple anti-dumping and countervailing cases in the United States against certain Chinese steel products, which suggests that U.S. steel producers
and trade officials are increasingly using trade remedies to enforce international trade laws.

The rise of China’s steel sector, along with other manufacturing industries, presents issues beyond trade law enforcement. China’s quest for industrial raw materials is having considerable effect on global demand and supply, and as a result, the prices and availability of such inputs. China’s restrictions on exports of some raw materials, allegedly, lower the cost of such raw materials in the home economy, while increasing global prices of these products (or diminishing global supply), thereby producing an unfair advantage in some manufacturing industries.

Amid the rising trade cases against various Chinese steel imports, Congress became increasingly concerned over alleged unfair trade competition from China. In August 2010, legislative measures were introduced in the Senate (S. 3725), while a set of measures focusing on illegal import practices were proposed by the U.S. Commerce Department, both aiming to continue the rigorous and more effective enforcement of U.S. trade laws.

This report provides an overview of China’s steel industry and discusses the issues and implications with regard to the U.S. steel sector.

To read the entire article with citations click here (PDF).

Click here for a listing of reports released by the Congressional Research Service.