East Asia has dominated the global steel industry for decades but is its influence now waning? Developing markets in Southeast and South Asia are now leading global steel demand growth. China is at a turning point in its economic history, with profound implications for steel. Weaker demand is being matched by weaker production, but will restraints continue indefinitely? Meanwhile, will India’s new wave of capacity lead to a new wave of exports? In this case, will demand growth in Southeast and South Asia be enough to absorb the excess, considering their own expanding capacity?
The last two years have seen raw materials markets in turmoil as shortages and trade disruptions have first sent prices spiraling higher followed by their collapse on the back of sharp cutbacks in Chinese production. Trade has also had a tumultuous few years with the US-China showdown, Covid, freight rate surges and a range of new restrictions on exports and imports for various products. New export giants may be developing in South Asia, with India looking more like China circa 2005. Amid all this, new trade frameworks are developing as the WTO loses influence and competing trading blocs evolve. Competition and protectionism are important drivers which could dramatically shape steel trade flows in the coming years.