“Steel must remain at the heart of the EU’s competitiveness,” said Robrecht Himpe, president of EUROFER, at yesterday’s European Steel Day in Brussels.

According to Mr Himpe, steel is the basis for investments, growth and jobs in Europe’s manufacturing value chains, which contribute 80% to the EU’s exports.

“Therefore, EU policies must act vigorously against distorting national state aid and unfair steel trade from third countries to ensure a healthy and cost-competitive steel industry,” he said.

A press release issued by EUROFER stated that EU steel demand increased by 3.9% in 2014, but that ‘the fruits were largely picked by imports’. Finished steel imports rose 20% in 2014 but deliveries by EU steelmakers increased by just 2%. For 2015 it’s a similar story with demand expected to remain slow (2%) and 2016 slightly better at 2.5%.

The main risk is a continued surge in imports into the EU. With this in mind, Himpe called for ‘timely and effective’ EU trade defence instruments and an acceleration of complaint preparation and filing, shortening the time by which provisional measure can be imposed, and meaningful duty levels.

With Chinese exports surging up to 93Mt, Himpe said that China was nowhere near qualifying for market economy status – “simply because this country does not meet the required technical conditions”, he said, based China’s policy of continuing a strong role for the state rather than relying upon true market forces.

On the issue of state control, EUROFER filed a formal complaint to the European Commision against Italian state aid for ILVA in Taranto. The company is currently under state control and has been allocated EUR2 billion from the Italian authories – a move not compatible with the EU Treaty or EU state aid regulations.

For the mid-to-long term, EUROFER believes that the cost impact of high energy prices and the emissions trading system (ETS) present the biggest risk to the European steel industry.

“To ensure the competitiveness of the steel industry in Europe, the gap in energy prices between competing economies must be closed,” EUROFER said, adding that the only way for the EU to meet ambitious climate targets and maintain a steel industry is to offset direct and indirect C02 costs a the level of the most efficient steel plants.