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Singapore — Vietnam's growing steel industry could affect global steel trading patterns in 2019 in light of its bullish performance in overseas markets and higher production.

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Despite Section 232 tariffs imposed by the US, Vietnam managed to increase its exports to the US in 2018, while other Asian steelmakers saw decreases.

Citing US Census Bureau data, the American Iron and Steel Institute said on March 6 that finished steel imports from Vietnam in 2018 amounted to 1.11 million mt, a 48% rise from 2017.

The finished steel products from Vietnam accounted for about 4.3% of the overall 25.69 million mt that the US imported in 2018.

A reason behind the rise was Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp., which fired up a second blast furnace on May 18, 2018, and doubled its crude steel production capacity to 7 million mt/year. FHS is 70% owned by Formosa Plastics, 25% by China Steel Corp. and 5% by Japan's JFE Steel.

Although US imports of finished steel products fell 13.1% year on year to 25.69 million mt in 2018, against 29.56 million mt in 2017, Vietnam's share of the imports grew from the 2.5% recorded in 2017, which was about 749,000 mt.

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In 2018, Vietnam exported 6.26 million mt in steel products, a 33% hike from 4.71 million mt in 2017. Vice versa, the country's imports stood at 13.5 million mt, down by about 10% from the 15.0 million mt a year before.

The opposing trends for imports and exports was due to a rise in domestic finished steel production to 24.19 million mt in 2018, a 14.9% increase from 2017, data from the Vietnam Steel Association showed.

Of the finished steel products, hot-rolled coil production saw the biggest jump to 3.44 million mt, about 2.5 times more than the 1.38 million mt produced in 2017, the VSA data showed.

Hoa Phat Group, the largest steelmaker in Vietnam, is expected to have flat steel availability in Q1 2019, industry sources said. The steelmaker plans to finish the construction of its Dung Quat plant and start all four of its blast furnaces gradually by the end of 2019. The mill has a designed crude steel capacity of about 4 million mt/year, half of which will be used for hot-rolled coil production.

"Looking at global steel output trends, it is useful to keep an eye out for growth in countries not traditionally big producers, but could swing the global steel trade balance," Citi Research said in a March 7 report on Vietnam's steel industry.

-- Clement Choo, clement.choo@spglobal.com

-- Fay Gao, xiaojuan.gao@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Norazlina Jumaat, newsdesk@spglobal.com