The iron and steel products have been added in 2007 to the list of the imported products, which makes the Arab markets a key player in the world iron and steel trading market. Even though this does not disclose any new thing in the fact that the Arab markets are considered a key importer of many products, because they are considered a net importer of the food products with a value of billions of dollars. the bill of the imports of the steel products estimated by more than 35 billion dollars in 2007 has occupied a main position in terms of value compared with the other imports, in addition to its volume estimated by a little bit more than 35 million tons of the finished iron and steel products.
The iron and steel products have taken a significantly important position in the world trade. The value of its exports has ranked the second next to oil. The volume of its exports has also increased a lot and it had constituted at the beginning of the seventies of the last century 22.6% of the total production, while this percentage has recently come up to be 40#, meaning that more than one ton out of every three tons produced goes to the world export markets.
This trend to increase exports has been encourage by the increasing demand in the world markets and the increasing steel production value as a direct result of the increasing demand. The volume of production had, during the past seven years of this decade, increased by 496 million tons, that is to say, from 848 million tons in 2000 up to 1.344 million tons in 2007 compared to an increase of 253 million tons within thirty years, that is, in the period 1970 – 2000.
The changes taking place in the production volume of steel and the volume of exports have been reflected on the positions of the both the producing and exporting countries. It happened that a certain exchange has taken place in these positions: some countries have retreated from advance positions they used to occupy in the production fields as well as in the field of exports and other countries progressed forward. The same thing has taken place for the steel companies, as several companies, or it can be said that several countries, have lost their position in the world markets and China has over the past years come up as a major driving force in the world steel markets, in imports and exports as well. However, it has, through a rapid dynamic manner, been transformed from the largest importer into the largest exporter in the world, as the volume of its exports in 2007 exceeded 65 million tons of steel products against 49 million tons in 2006. These rapid and successive changes in the steel trade and production have resulted in drawing a new map for the world steel industry. The Arab countries have come to have a place on this map by increasing production up to 25 million tons of finished products in 2007. This figure is expected to reach 30 million tons in 2010, but despite this increase in the volume, the contribution of the Arab countries to the world steel production remains less than 2%. This contribution is mainly concentrated in the long products. Imports of the Arab countries of these products in 2007 amounted to 18% of the total trade of these products.
The real estate sector has been the major driver of the demand for the long products, as this sector has experienced a rapid growth accelerated by the presence of a strong demand and an available financial liquidity which has found in this sector a good scope for investment and achieving a guaranteed profitability.
But the increasing imports volume poses a key issue at the level of the Arab steel industry as well as for a lot of the imports into the Arab markets. This issue is represented in a main question as follows : Until when we will remain importers? And has the steel industry in the Arab countries prepared itself to be an exporting power in case of the decline of the demand in the domestic markets and the capability to compete in the world market has become the determinant of who will be the winners and losers in a market controlled by the major companies?
Out of this question other questions may come out : Why is there no Arab country among the top twenty steel producing countries at the world level ? Why is there no Arab company among the top sixty companies in the field of the world steel industry ? Why do we not have one or several companies the production of each of which exceeds ten million tons/year, as the largest production of a certain Arab company is still within the limits of five million tons/year?
The list of the most profitable and most capable companies to compete as a result of their ability to produce at lower costs confirms that it is the major companies which have the best luck to realize these features, while the small companies remain more affected by the price fluctuations and the falling and rising curves usually faced by the steel industry as a result of what it is exposed to of economic cycles affecting this industry negatively or positively, especially that the cycle of the fall of prices is looming after the rise seen in the steel prices during the past periods of time which have hit record highs which contributed to the prosperity and growth of this industry.
Perhaps there would be some who would say that the new production capacity, if the new projects and existing expansions are executed, will create an overcapacity which would result in establishing competition among the producers, which threatens the future of this industry, and there are supporters of this opinion by having idle production capacities in many of the existing mills, because there is no complete utilization of the available production capacity. Even though what is being said reflects the real situation of this industry, the other side of this truth is represented in the fact that our imports of steel have achieved the highest growth rate at the world level. This rate in the period 2006 – 2007 was 15%. Maybe the year of 2008 will witness rates approximate to this one in spite of the downward trend of imports during the first half of this year. Also, one Arab country, the United Arab Emirates, had ranked seventh in 2007 among the largest importing countries at the world level with a figure amounting to 9.6 million tons/year. In addition, the per capita consumption average of steel is still below the world average. Also the demand level in the Arab region still constitutes one of the highest levels.
All these data make us look at the steel industry in the Arab countries as an industry for the future and that it possesses the elements of power, should all these elements be used, which enable it to occupy a position in the world export markets and qualify it to be the most capable to give the answer to the question : When will our power be in what we export and not in what we import ?
The capability of this industry to develop is a bet for the future, which requires not only opening the doors for imports only but also providing the appropriate circumstances for exports.
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