Selection of the expression «Arab Steel Summit» as a title for the annual conference of the Arab Iron and Steel Union held in the city of Muscat/ Sultanate of Oman during March 2007, which is organized annually in one of the Arab capitals, was not made by coincidence or by merely attempting to borrow terms which are often used in political and environmental domains and sometimes as a title for some of the industrial conferences.
This selection was made for the purpose of concentration or rather for the purpose of shedding a stronger light on an industry about which talking is still conducted under titles which do not, in fact, conform to the actual or even geographical reality of this industry, in addition to the fact that this industry still faces a sort of non-recognition, even though unintentionally, that it has a sort of geographical peculiarity and a sort of growth acceleration making it deserve to have a self-imposing designation and not a confusing designation in which both geography and politics are mixed up, which is the currently used designation under the title of «Steel industry in the Middle East».
There is no doubt that the steel industry in the Arab countries which are situated in the Middle East region represents a basic part of the reality of this industry in the region, but it does not represent the broader and more comprehensive conception of this industry which is included within a number of the Arab countries of which some are in the Middle East region and some others are in North Africa, in which the steel companies in terms of their geographical distribution and the nature of their activities are affiliated to a particular entity established over 25 years ago which is the Arab Iron and Steel Union comprising the group of steel producing companies at the level of the Arab world, the production of which counts for more than 90% of the total Arab steel production.
Even though it has to be acknowledged that the production volume of this industry , which exceeded 20 million tons of finished products in 2006, is still limited. It counts for less than 2% of the total world production. However, it has to be noted that the accelerating growth witnessed by this industry, which, during the past five years, was the largest second growth rate at the world level, will make this industry, within the future perspective, gain an increasing importance not only as a production power but mainly as a steel consuming power.
This new image of the reality of this industry in the Arab region is consolidated by the figures and analyses presented during the «Arab Steel Summit 2007» held in Muscat. The reports presented in it indicate that the imports of the Arab countries in 2006 had exceeded 25 million tons of steel products. This figure constitutes about 9% of the total world trade of steel products during the same year. The volume of the imports of one of the Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates, was about 6.4 million tons of various products during 2006, bringing it into the 11th rank among the largest importers of steel products at the world level during 2006.
In spite of the connection of this booming state of the steel industry, in terms of production and imports, with the great economic growth seen by the countries of this region owing to the high oil prices and availability of the monetary liquidity being now invested in setting up many projects, in particular the construction projects which are considered a major drive of the economic activity in a number of the countries of the region, this state may not be apt to a rapid change. It establishes for a more expansive growth state in the future concentrated mainly in the development of steel consumption used in the construction sector and in the infrastructure development, and also in the development of many other steel consuming industrial sectors, including the sector of the pipes used in the oil and gas fields. This state of affairs has motivated investors to direct large investments to set up steel mills not only in long products but also in producing flat, coated and galvanized products, which consolidate the added value of this industry.
The expected consumption growth over the next five years will provide new opportunities for the local production to cover a great part of the consumption volume, but, at the same time, it will also provide an opportunity for the steel imports to maintain their place in the Arab markets, which will minimize the fears about the presence of an overcapacity constituting a challenge for the development of this industry in the future.
The opportunities of developing the steel industry in the Arab countries still represent promising prospects for the future. Despite that most of the existing projects still concentrate on producing finished products, there is a new trend which has risen by directing some investments to produce raw materials and semis. This is seen in the new pellets production projects the production of which will double within the next five years.
A look to the number of the new and announced projects in the fields of steel production, either in the presently existing companies or in the companies intended to be set up which are now about 97 projects must focus on the importance that this industry must have, within the conception adopted by the Arab Iron and Steel Union, the conception of the Arab steel industry, its characteristic position in the international statistics so that such statistics should not remain distributed between countries situated in the Middle East and countries in North Africa.
This new look to the reality of this industry and to its future development will contribute to presenting a clearer imagination of the future development of this industry, because it is not possible to ignore the fact that a portion of the production of these new projects will enter the world markets as exports and that a decline in the volume of imports will be expected. It does not make sense for the imports to continue in the escalation state. This has been manifested in the cycle of this industry, for instance, in China which has turned out from being a net importer into a net exporter within a few years to be a net of the peak they have arrived at. This will make such imports look for alternative markets, which may mean that a new map of the steel trade will appear within the next years.
The rapid development seen in the Arab steel industry requires not only that this industry should take its place and position among the steel industries in the world, but also more coordination between the parties concerned in this industry at the Arab level. This is a point of view which was requested by many of the leaders of the Arab steel industry during their meeting in the Arab Steel Summit 2007 which constitutes for the Union an objective it is working for and endeavouring to realize.
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