Indian steel policy draws Japanese-led criticism at WTO

Freight trains are loaded with iron ore at a railway station at Chitradurga in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. - Reuters pic

Freight trains are loaded with iron ore at a railway station at Chitradurga in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. – Reuters pic

GENEVA: India’s decision to put minimum prices on imported iron and steel and to impose emergency “safeguard” tariffs on some steel imports drew wide criticism at a meeting of the World Trade Organization’s Goods Council on Friday, a WTO official said.

Japan led the criticism of India, and its concerns were echoed by Taiwan, Canada, Australia, the European Union and South Korea. China, the world’s biggest steel producer, commented on India’s restrictions on trade in apples but did not join the criticism on steel, the official said.

Japan’s representative told the closed-door meeting that the minimum import prices announced by India on Feb 5 on more than 170 products had significant adverse impact on Japan’s exports, and were clearly inconsistent with WTO rules, the official said.

Japan also criticised the “safeguard” tariff that India imposed on hot-rolled flat products to protect its own industry from a damaging surge in imports of those products.

The world steel market has been hit by massive oversupply from China, by far the world’s dominant producer, coupled by falling demand around the world.

Chinese crude steel output hit a record 70.65 million tonnes in March, while exports were up 30% from a year ago.

Meanwhile Indian steel imports jumped 18.2%, adding to pressure on the government from firms such as JSW Steel, Tata Steel and Kalyani Steels to step up protection against competing supplies from China, as well as Russia, Japan and South Korea.

The US representative at the WTO meeting also raised concerns about India’s import tariff increases on 96 budget lines, including manufacturing inputs and across the information technology sector, the WTO official said.

India had also raised the customs duty on medical devices and pharmaceuticals, put compulsory registration orders on some electronic products, and required that some foreign products get re-tested in India to standards that were identical to foreign standards, the US representative told the meeting.

India’s representative said India took its WTO obligations very seriously and said it was premature to bring up minimum import prices at the WTO’s Goods Council before discussing it at subsidiary committees, the WTO official said.

The concerns about safeguards and tariff increases would be relayed to New Delhi, India’s representative said. – Reuters

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