By Sohrab Darabshaw
There's a quiet battle being fought outside the limelight between India and other steel producing nations over the world's largest democracy's protectionist measure, the Minimum Import Price (MIP), introduced in February.
The MIP, essentially a tariff on imports targeted mainly at neighboring China, is set to expire August 5. While large steelmakers in India are pushing for the continuation of MIP by the government, some member-nations of the World Trade Organization have started to apply pressure to remove the MIP. The MIP on 173 steel items for six months was introduced as a way to curb cheap imports and firm up steel prices in the home market. The MIP ranged from $341 a metric ton to $752/mt depending on which product.
Other Nations Protest the MIP
In a recent meeting of the goods council at the WTO, nine members, including the U.S., the European Union and China, asked India to justify its continued restrictions on imported steel.
There are some who say that if India continues with the MIP after the deadline it could be dragged into dispute proceedings at the WTO by any of the complaining members, although India has consistently maintained it's done no wrong and the MIP is a general agreement on tariffs and trade-compliant instrument to regulate imports. Almost all steel producing major countries have imposed one form or the other of tariffs or other protectionist measures to curb steel imports. There are also reports here that India could prune the list of 173 steel products and still keep the MIP in effect for most products.
MIP Effect: Imports Fall
In the first quarter of FY17 (India's fiscal year begins on April 1) total steel production in India grew by 3.8% year-on-year, while overall steel consumption grew by only 0.3%. In the same period, imports fell by 30.7% year-on-year, according to a new report by rating agency India Rating and Research (Ind-Ra).
According to the agency, the increase in Indian steel production was supported by the MIP policy but was unlikely to continue beyond August after it expires. Since the imposition of the MIP, domestic producers benefited by way of import substitution. Ind-Ra felt the continuation of the industry protection measure beyond August is required to "safeguard the interest of the domestic steel industry, which has shown signs of a recovery in the current fiscal on the back of MIP."
Ind-Ra opined that profitability for most steel producers is likely to remain under pressure due to the newly added capacity. The interest cost and depreciation from these new capacities have now started to impact the income statements and increased both operations and financial leverage for India's steel industry. For India's steel companies to see healthy profit generation, capacity utilization levels need to increase significantly.