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In the first three months of 2013, exports of semi-finished products rose 29.8% from a year earlier to 1.56 million tonnes, while hot rolled sheet shipments increased by 28.8% to 3.08 million tonnes.
By contrast, galvanised sheet shipments fell by 5.4% to 1.01 million tonnes and those of cold rolled sheet by 0.2% to 797,000 tonnes.
At first, this shift seemed somewhat paradoxical as Japanese steelmakers have always boasted about their technological edge over their regional rivals.
Moreover, the intermediate segment of the global market is far more competitive than the high-grade processed segment.
“But when you look carefully, what you see is an increased preference by Japanese carmakers to source their steel locally rather than importing them from Japan to keep costs down. Japanese steel producers are following this shift by setting up joint ventures with regional steelmakers, leading to a rise in exports of intermediate products for local processing,” the official pointed out.
“The quality of the final end product depends much on the quality of the intermediate products and even in this segment Japanese quality is still superior to that of other regional producers such as China.
“Moreover, despite the fall of the yen making domestic production more attractive, I do not see this trend of rising intermediate exports and falling shipments of processed steel altering. Rather, it’s become an entrenched long-term trend”.