China’s 2023 iron ore imports hit a record high on rising demand

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s iron ore imports in 2023 hit a record high, up 6.6% from a year before, customs data showed on Friday, thanks to stronger demand amid a lack of government-mandated steel output caps and higher-than-expected steel exports.

The world’s largest iron ore consumer brought in a total of about 1.18 billion metric tons in the past year, data from the country’s General Administration of Customs showed.

The 2023 total also marked the first rise since 2020 as Beijing introduced a cap on its annual steel output in 2021 and 2022 to help curb carbon emissions, reducing demand for the key steelmaking ingredient in those years.

China’s iron ore imports in 2021 and 2022 fell 3.9% and 1.5% year-on-year, respectively.

There were no caps on steel output in 2023, however, with the world’s second-largest economy struggling to recover from the COVID-era in part because of debt woes in the property sector.

Crude steel output in the first 11 months of 2023 rose 1.5% from the same period a year earlier to 952.14 million tons, official data showed, stoking demand for feedstock over the year.

In December, China imported 100.86 million tons of iron ore, down 1.83% from 102.74 million tons in November, as more mills started maintenance in blast furnaces as steel profit margins contracted.

The December volume compares to 90.86 million tons in the same month in 2022.


China’s exports of steel products in December 2023 rose 43.2% on the year to 7.73 million tons, bringing the annual total shipments to a seven-year high of 90.26 million tons, a rise of 36.2%, customs data showed, beating market expectations.

The world’s largest steel producer also imported 665,000 tons of steel products last month, bring the 2023 total to 7.65 million tons, a decline of 27.6% from 2022.

(Reporting by Amy Lv and Andrew Hayley; Editing by Tom Hogue)