World leaders said they are committed to fixing excess industrial capacity and a global steel glut caused by government subsidies and support, according to a communique from the Group of Seven advanced economies meeting in Japan.
Without naming China, the statement amplifies pressure on the world’s top steel supplier, which has been blamed as the prime driver of a flood of cheap metal that has stoked trade tensions across the globe.
“We recognize the negative impact of global excess capacity across industrial sectors, especially steel, on our economies, trade and workers,” according to the G-7’s communique Friday. “In particular, we are concerned about subsidies and other support by governments and government-supported institutions that distort the market and contribute to global excess capacity.”
Contending with its slowest growth in decades, China is exporting its surplus of steel at record levels. The European Union, India and the U.S. have all taken steps to protect their domestic industries against the deluge.
Even as China seeks to pivot from capital-intensive to consumer-led growth, it’s in a bind on how to effectively make that transition. “Inefficient mills also employ people and it may be an important industry in rural areas, so it won’t be easy for China to stop such mills,” said Risaburo Nezu, chairman of the Steel Committee at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“It will be a tough decision for China, but unless the country stops facilities at some point, it won’t be good for them to keep production while funding subsidies,” he said in an interview in Tokyo on Thursday.
The latest move from the U.S. Department of Commerce on Wednesday was to set possible tariffs on steel imports from China and four other countries, with Chinese producers potentially facing anti-dumping duties of 210 percent, although that level was scaled back from an earlier ruling.
China’s commerce ministry called for restraint and prudence in the application of trade protection measures in a statement Friday. The day before, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to European criticisms by noting that only 14 percent of the E.U.’s imported steel comes from China. The solution to “the malaise of the steel industry of Europe or even the world” is to bolster “sustained and and steady global economic recovery,” she said at a briefing in Beijing.
China is taking steps to reduce its steel capacity, with a government plan to cut between 100 million and 150 million metric tons by 2020 as a fading infrastructure boom leaves it saddled with too many unprofitable plants after decades of rapid growth. On Thursday, its top steel-making province, which accounts for about a quarter of national output, said it aims to shutter capacity equivalent to about a month of production, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The G-7 said it intends to utilize venues, such as the OECD, to consult with major steel producing countries to end the glut, according to its statement, which comes six weeks after industrialized nations failed to agree with China on steps to tackle the problem at a meeting in Brussels held by the OECD.
Participants had sought agreement to eliminate state subsidies and share information among nations to be transparent on output cuts, the OECD’s Nezu said.