The International Steel Trade Association (ISTA) has written to the UK minister for international trade challenging Tata Steel UK's hefty imports of Indian hot-rolled coil (HRC).
Tata Steel UK on 15 June imported 22,000t of material from its Indian parent company, private-sector producer Tata Steel, when the other countries' quotas totalled only 47,000t combined, including unused tonnage rolled forward from previous periods, as reported. In its letter to MP Nigel Huddleston, ISTA referred to Argus' articles about Tata Steel UK importing Indian HRC for customs clearance in June and October.
In October, the UK firm will import another 22,000t, using the vast majority of the 22,837t of other countries' quota for the October-December period.
ISTA, which represents UK importers, said trading firms are "being blocked from supplying their UK customers" as a result.
"Tata Steel UK benefits from the protection of the safeguard measures quota system, but it cannot be considered as fair trading practice to then take up that quota, thus preventing importers from supplying their own customers," ISTA chairman Tony Feek said in the letter.
ISTA suggests that a new import quota be opened for Tata Steel UK's use, or that the other countries' quota be increased to a "more realistic quantity". Sources close to Tata Steel UK said its imports from India were in line with historical volumes.
"The import quota for HRC exceeds 200,000t each quarter," a Tata Steel UK spokesperson said. "There has not been a quarter when this quota has been fully utilised since UK quotas were introduced." This volume is split between Europe, Turkey, Taiwan and other countries.
Offers from countries that are exempt from the quota, such as Vietnam and Egypt, have been tabled by many trading companies in recent weeks. Vietnamese HRC in recent weeks was sold into the West Midlands at below £600/t ddp.
Tata Steel UK's initial purchase of Indian HRC came after it experienced production disruption at its plant in Port Talbot, Wales, which hampered supplies to its own distribution unit.
"On occasion, Tata Steel UK, like most other steelmakers, complements its own production with supplies from other sources to balance its utilisation of downstream production assets," the spokesperson said.
Market sources suggested that Tata Steel UK's use of the other countries' quota could provide the mill with a more captive market, enabling it to boost prices in what has been a weak market. The Argus weekly UK HRC assessment on 3 August was £610/t, down from almost £800/t in April. At the same time, independents have bemoaned Tata Steel UK's competitiveness in the downstream market, where sheet prices have also been falling. argusmedia
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