East Asian Steel Projections for the 1990s Revisited

Peter Drysdale
Ben Garvey
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In 1989 a research team from the AustraliaJapan Research Centre (AJRC) undertook a study of the prospects for the East Asian steel industry for the 1990s. The aim was to assess the impact of developments in the region on industry strategies in Australia. This paper reviews those projections to see whether they were right or wrong. It also examines the growth of the East Asian industry over the last decade in the context of developments in the industry worldwide and reviews Australias position in regional iron ore and coal markets during the 1990s. The central focus of the AJRC study was on what opportunities might emerge in Australia for the supply of processed steel product to the East Asian region in the 1990s. The main conclusion was that East Asia would shift from being a long-time and significant net exporter of steel product to the rest of the world to being a significant net importer of steel product, given then established trends in production, consumption and trade. At the time, this was a radical conclusion. It had an important impact on thinking about trends in the regional steel market in Australia, in Japan and elsewhere in East Asia. The main conclusions of the AJRC study turned out to be correct. The industry did not adjust to the pressures in the market exactly as predicted, partly because of the financial crisis in East Asia and Japans domestic stagnation. However, the conclusions about the growth of China and its impact on regional steel trade were particularly prescient. In the last decade, China has become the worlds largest producer and consumer of steel while Japanese consumption and production have contracted. Both South Korea and Taiwan have increased their shares of production and consumption of steel. Australia has entrenched its position as the dominant supplier of iron ore and coking products to East Asia.