Steel imports from Asia and eastern Europe now account for the major share of the UK steel market and have eroded prices by an average of 15 20% over the past six months.
An internal memo from Eurofer, the European Steel Federation, shows that over the past five to six months imports into the EU of all steel products rose by nearly 75%, turning the EU into a net importer of steel for the first time.
Imports of Asian steel have risen by nearly 600% from 40,000 tonnes a month in 1997 to 282,000 tonnes so far this year. Eurofer blames the Asian economic crisis, which has forced Asian producers to switch their steel to alternative markets.
The collapse of the Asian market has also reduced export opportunities and led to a steep rise in imports into the EU from other countries.
Tonnages into the EU from central and eastern Europe have risen by 38% so far this year, with imports from Serbia and Montenegro rising by 77% and from Turkey by 94%.
The EU faces a negative trade balance of nearly 4m tonnes by the end of the year if imports continue at their present rate. In an effort to stem the imports Eurofer is consulting the European Commission about filing anti-dumping duties.