The steel sector operates on a worldwide scale, with significant global trade in raw materials like iron ore and scrap, as well as steel products. Over the span of seventy years, starting from 1950, worldwide production has multiplied tenfold, increasing from 189 million metric tons to a staggering 1,885 million metric tons by 2022. There is a clear dichotomy in the world crude steel production, with China contributing more than half (54%), followed by a very distant India at merely 6.6%, as of 2022.
Metals, unassuming treasures hidden beneath the earth, have been the mighty engines of industrialization. Among these metallic heroes, steel reigns supreme. This metal is no ordinary alloy; it is a linchpin, a universal connection that binds the three pillars of industry: agriculture, manufacturing, and services.
From the plough that tills the soil to the skyscrapers that touch the sky, steel is the thread that weaves through the fabric of our progress. When the fires of industry burn hot and steel flows abundantly, economies surge forward. When those fires dim, it’s a stark reminder that progress has momentarily paused. The production and consumption of steel are not just numbers on a balance sheet; they are the pulse of a nation’s economic well-being.
In this article, we look at global and India’s steel industry trends showcasing its progress and the challenges it faces.
World Crude steel production grew tenfold in past seven decades.
The steel sector operates on a worldwide scale, with significant global trade in raw materials like iron ore and scrap, as well as steel products. Globally, there has been a remarkable surge in crude steel production. Over the span of seventy years, starting from 1950, worldwide production has multiplied tenfold, increasing from 189 million metric tons to a staggering 1,885 million metric tons by 2022. This growth is most likely due to an unprecedented rise in demand for steel owing to rapid urbanization.
The average growth rate per annum between 1950-55 stood at 7.4%, the highest in all these seven decades. It is followed by 6.2% between 2000-05. In the twentieth century, the average growth rates per annum stood between 2005-10 stood at 4.6%, 2010-15 at 2.5%, and 2015-20 at 3% respectively. The global steel production experienced a slump due to COVID-19, with the growth rate per annum between 2020-22 being merely 0.2%.
India becomes second largest crude steel producer in the world.
The world geography of crude steel production is undergoing restructuring in response to international and national conditions. There is a clear dichotomy in the world crude steel production, with China contributing more than half (54%), followed by a very distant India at merely 6.6%, as of 2022. This inequitable domination by China determines the future growth of the global steel industry.
The share of China in 2000 was just at nearly 15%, followed by Japan at 12.5% and the United States at 12% respectively. India’s share stood at 3% during the same period. Within a span of two decades, as of 2022, China’s contribution stood at 54%, followed by India, Japan, and the United States at 6.7%, 4.7%, and 4.3% respectively. India’s crude steel production surpassed Japan for the first time in 2016, making it the second largest in the world. From 2018, India steadily remained as the second largest crude steel producer.
Widening gap in Per Capita Steel Usage in India and the world
Though India is the second largest producer of crude steel in the world, the per capita consumption of steel in India is very low. In 2001, the per capita consumption of steel in India was 26.8 Kg, while it was 133.4 Kg for the world. Two decades later, India’s per capita consumption stands at 81.1 Kg while the world’s per capita consumption is 221.8 Kg. In Indian rural areas, the per capita consumption is merely 10 Kg.
It is also observed that India has not paced proportionately with the world in per capita steel consumption. The gap between the Indian and the world’s per capita steel consumption is only widening. In the trajectory of developed nations, three distinct phases emerge in terms of steel consumption- starting with a low base of steel consumption, followed by exponential growth and thereafter stabilizing at a lower level once the industry matures. It is also expected that India follows this trajectory, and hence the vision of the New National Steel Policy of 2017, aiming to increase the per capita consumption of steel to 160 kgs by 2030-31.
Indian exports of finished steel at all-time high in last two decades
The finished steel production in India stood at 114 MT while the consumption stood at 106 MT in 2021-22. This is the second-highest finished steel production after 2017-18 in the last two decades. Similarly, Indian finished steel consumption crossed the 100-million-ton mark for the second time in 2021-22 after 2019-20. In terms of exports and imports, the finished steel exports crossed the 10-million-ton mark consecutively for 2020-21 and 2021-22, while the imports remained lower than the 2006-07 levels. The gap in exports and imports for 2020-21 and 2021-22 project a positive outlook for the Indian steel industry, with India becoming a net exporter of finished steel.
Indian Steel Industry- Opportunities and Challenges for future
The low per capita usage of steel in India demonstrates a strong growth potential for the Indian steel industry. Key demand drivers for steel consumption include building, construction, and infrastructure, which account for almost two-thirds of the steel demand. As per the Construction Industry Development Council, almost 30% of the steel demand is in real estate, and India is among the countries that have less than 10% of the market share of steel-framed construction, which is as high as 80% in a few industrialized countries. It shows the growth potential of the steel Industry in India. As per the National Steel Policy 2017, in India, steel has an output multiplier effect of nearly 1.4X on GDP and an employment multiplier factor of 6.8X. It is imperative that adequate support systems be developed to keep the steel industry going.
While the future looks bright, it is laced with challenges. Global steel markets are primarily demand and supply driven, and are dependent on a multitude of factors including country structures, policy regimes, and trade barriers among others. In addition to this, the Steel industry is one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions, and it remains an energy-intensive activity. As per the World Steel Association Sustainability report 2022, the carbon dioxide emissions intensity (tonnes CO2/ton crude steel) increased from 1.8 in 2007 to 1.91 in 2021. With global commitments to environmental protection, countries like India which have tremendous growth potential, need to quickly adapt to the latest technologies in greener steel production.