This article takes a look at some of the principal producers of steel across the world and how the profile of the global industry is evolving, with focus moving to the East, both in terms of production and consumption.
In the latter stages of the 20th century, through to the present day, there has been a shift in emphasis within the steel producing industry, from the old powerhouses of Europe, where production has significantly decreased since the 1970s, to the new manufacturing hubs of Asia, with their vast natural resources – including of course the iron ore and fossil fuels required to produce steel. As the industry has become more efficient and reliant on mechanical processes the number of individuals employed by producers has dropped but this effect has been more pronounced in these old powerhouses, demonstrating the relative scaling back of operations. For example, in the EU, employment declined by 72% between 1974 and 2000, from 996,000 employees to 278,000; while in the US it was down by 71% from 521,000.
The following lists the top 3 steel producers in the world using 2012 output figures from the World Steel Association and highlights the changing landscape of the industry.
China has emerged as, by a distance, the largest producer of steel across the globe accounting for a whopping 46.3% of the world's annual production in 2012, according to the World Steel Association. Most countries, witnessed a dip in 2009 due to the economic difficulties but China's output marched on regardless, rising by 221.6 million tonnes between 2007 and 2012 – a margin in itself double the total level of output of the next main producer Japan. China's output of 716.5 million tonnes in 2012 was over 4 times that of the entire European Union put together, and over 8 times that of the US. The UK, who sit 18th on the list of global suppliers, meanwhile have an annual output of a mere 9.8 million tonnes, just 1/73 of China's.
The eastern superpower also claimed to be the top steel exporter in 2011, although not by the same margin due to the size of their internal market and consumption. In total, 47.9 million tonnes left the country in 2011 despite due to China's filed demand for the raw material and their consequent imports of foreign steel, the country slips to 2nd when it comes to the top net exporters, behind Japan.
In contrast to China, the output from Japan has actually dropped a little in the last 5 years (-11%) but it remains the second highest producing country in its own right (the EU collectively has a higher output), producing around 107 million tonnes. However, Japan does almost catch China when it comes to the amount of that steel that is exported rather than earmarked for internal consumption (40.7m tonnes) and indeed takes top spot as the highest net exporter in the world, above its neighbor. As well as having slightly lower levels of steel imports than China, Japan exports a far higher proportion of its output, around 38% in comparison with China's 7%.
The US has slipped to 3rd in the pecking order, and, similar to Japan, has been hit by the recession with production levels almost halving between 2007 and 2009, before rallying in 2012 to sit just 10% below 2007's levels. With output of 88.6 million tonnes in the last year it looks inevitable that the US will be made and overtaken by India in the next few years as their steel output sets just 12 million tonnes behind, having risen by 43% in the last five years.
Due to the scale of manufacture in the US, the superpower consumes most of its steel internally and thus, as well as sitting far down the table of exporters, holds the position of the worlds primary importer of steel, both in sheet numbers and when offset against their own exports. Only the EU (thanks primarily to Germany) as a collective can claim to import more of the world's steel than the US.
In summary the global steel markets are witnessing the US and EU moving away from production and instead relying on imports, particularly from Asia, to meet their high levels of demands. China meanwhile, has taken on the role of the industry's megalith, with almost unparallel natural resources and driven by the need to meet both global demand along the manufacturing and building demands of its own mammoth population and internal markets.