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The Chinese steel market will “continue to be fraught with difficulties” in the short and medium terms while consolidation would be a “silver lining” for the sector, Delong Holdings, the Singapore-listed steelmaker, said it its 2014 annual report.

China’s crude steel output failed to see growth on a yearly basis in March, as the industry remained under pressure. The country produced 69.48 million tonnes of crude steel last month, edging down 1.2% year-on-year, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The recent slew of mill maintenances announced by major Chinese hot roll coil (HRC) producers is unlikely to have any impact on the country's depressed domestic market, participants said.

China’s finished steel exports surged by over 40% in the first quarter of this year, although the growth is slowing down after volumes hit a record high in January. During the first three months of the year, China exported 25.78 million tonnes of finished steel, up 40.7% compared with the same period last year, according to data released by the Chinese customs.

China’s HRC export prices continued to hit new lows over the past week, as most mills dropped their offers to secure sales in a weak market.

Import prices for HRC dropped to their lowest level in Vietnam in almost a decade, as Chinese traders fought to secure overseas orders in Southeast Asia’s biggest market for the product.

Meanwhile, newly published data shows the steel industry is likely to benefit as China/s household appliances market continues to grow, but stiff domestic competition could limit the upside for individual steelmakers.

Coaltrans China
We reported from the 12th Coaltrans China conference in Beijing this week.

BHP Billiton is confident it will be able to ride out the weak coal market and has no plans to cut production. Its metallurgical coal operations are running at full capacity and the company believes it is "well positioned" on the cost curve, vp for coal marketing Shaun Verner told delegates.

The parliament of Mongolia is expected to vote within a week on the development of the Tavan Tolgoi coking coal project by a consortium of China Shenhua, Sumitomo and Mongolian Mining. About half of the parliament support the consortium’s development plan for the major coal complex, while the other half believe there might be better options, Batbileg Batbayar, director of sales and marketing at Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi (ETT), said.

Steel demand in China is at its peak, but demand for seaborne coking coal is set to go down, according to Baosteel’s president of raw materials purchasing, Zhang Dianbo. Coking coal imports will "slow down and stabilise" in 2015, Zhang told delegates. However, he did not reveal his forecast for the country’s expected total coking coal import volumes this year.

Is there a bottom in sight for seaborne coking coal prices? Find out what the delegates at the Coaltrans China conference think about the situation here.

Trade policy
Indonesia’s industry ministry has proposed that dozens of finished steel products have their import duties raised to a minimum of 15% from existing levels – mainly ranging from zero to 12.5%.

The plan would mainly affect carbon flat steel goods, according to a senior official at the Indonesian Iron & Steel Industry Assn (IISIA).

The Turkish Steel Exporters Assn (CIB) has urged the Canadian International Trade Tribunal to initiate a public interest inquiry in response to its finding in a preliminary injury inquiry into rebar imports.

The European steel association, Eurofer, has submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission regarding subsidies for Italian steelmaker Ilva.

The German steel federation WV Stahl had submitted a similar complaint to the commission a few days earlier.

The International Steel Trade Assn (ISTA) has launched an investigation into the quality of Chinese rebar and structural steel imports into Europe.

ISTA has set up a sub-committee of six members from nations that import rebar and other structural steel products from China "to study recent claims by certain steel trade associations and other bodies questioning the performance and conformity to relevant standards of this Chinese steel".

China has allowed anti-dumping and countervailing tariffs against imports of grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) from the USA to expire, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

Egypt has proposed a definitive safeguarding measure on imports of rebar to last three years, according to a document released by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

And finally...

Elsewhere,..

Ukraine's biggest steelmaker, Metinvest, insists it is still taking orders and it's 'business as usual' despite defaulting on $113 million in bond payments.

CIS export slab prices have gone down further over the past week amid weak market sentiment.

Steel First assessed export prices for CIS-origin slab at $310-320 per tonne fob Black Sea on Monday April 13, down by $10 per tonne from previous levels despite the widespread belief that prices had already bottomed out.

Southeast Asia’s slab import prices moved down slightly following the conclusion of a purchase tender in Indonesia that saw three different winners. Around 30,000 tonnes of the semi-finished product will be supplied by a Brazilian mill at around $320-325 per tonne cfr, with shipment scheduled for June and delivery in July.

Consumption of rebar in Russia is expected to drop by 15% this year. Steel First’s Russian domestic rebar price assessments have gone down by an average of 4,075 roubles ($76) per tonne since late January due to weak demand and a lack of funds in the market.