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The total volume of export shipments rose to 42.49 million tonnes, according to the latest data from the Japan Iron & Steel Federation. The rise was led by a 7.9% increase in exports of semi-finished products to 5.51 million tonnes.
Carbon steel exports rose by a more moderate 1.1% to 27.67 million tonnes. A 17.3% rise in hot rolled coil shipments offset decreases in cold rolled coil, galvanized sheet and heavy plate of 14.2%, 6.4% and 1.7%, respectively.
The rise in exports came despite a fall in output from Japanese mills. Annual crude steel production fell by 0.3% to 107.23 million tonnes in 2012, down for the second straight year.
But there are signs that conditions are improving for Japanese producers. Not only is export demand on the rise, thanks largely to the recent big falls in the value of the yen, but cheap imports have also slowed considerably.
In December, exports rose by 9.2% to 3.87 million tonnes, with those to Thailand up by 74% to 467,632 tonnes.
While the figure was somewhat distorted by last year’s floods in Thailand, which resulted in abnormally big shipments, demand was still strong to other markets. Exports to China rose by 3.6% to 485,149 tonnes and those to South Korea went up by 12% to 629,423 tonnes.
Japanese import volumes in 2012 retreated, dropping by 3.1% to 8.03 million tonnes.
That was largely due to a fall in ferroalloy imports, however, with inbound shipments of speciality steel, semi-finished and secondary steel products all up. Even carbon steel imports only edged down by 0.5% to 4.46 million tonnes.
Japan’s exports of iron and steel rebounded last year, rising by 3.1% year-on-year on particularly strong demand from Southeast Asia.