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China’s steel industry association has spoken out against protectionism in the wake of a high-profile move by Donald Trump toward limiting US imports of the metal .

The China Iron and Steel Association voiced its concerns in a statement published on its website in response to Mr Trump’s call for a national security investigation that could lead to sweeping tariffs on steel imports – a move the US president said “has nothing to do with China”.

“Even so,” the association said, “China’s steel industry holds that this broadcasts a protectionist signal to the international community and is inconsistent with the principles of fair trade”.

The group added that, according to US statistics, American imports of Chinese steel totalled 789,000 tonnes in 2016, accounting for 2.6 per cent of total import volume and, at $910m, were equivalent to 4.1 per cent of the total value of annual US steel imports.

“Chinese steel exports to the US are extremely limited, and absolutely do not affect the security of the US steel industry,” the group said.

The statement comes after the association reported that China’s steel output rose 4.6 per cent year on year in the first quarter to 201.1m tonnes, with daily production reaching 2.3m tonnes, a record high. Last year Chinese steel production accounted for half of global output, according to the World Steel Association.

But the Chinese industry group also reported exports in the first quarter were down 25 per cent from a year prior, with March’s fall in outbound shipments marking the eighth straight month of year-on-year contraction. Steel imports, meanwhile, rose 11.3 per cent in Q1 to 3.5m tonnes.

Even so, with domestic consumption having peaked in 2013 and infrastructure and property construction likely headed toward a saturation point, more Chinese steel is likely to flow to global markets in the years ahead. And because China’s steel industry is so large, every increase of 1 per cent in exports is almost the equivalent of the entire export market for American steel mills.

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