China exported 7.56 million mt of steel in March, rebounding 31% from a three-year low in February but still 24% lower year on year, preliminary data released Thursday by the General Administration of Customs showed.
The gain reverses three straight months of decline in exports since December, mainly due to Chinese steelmakers selling in the domestic market where prices have been higher.
Imports at 1.3 million mt were at the highest level since September 2014, likely also because strength in domestic prices drove buying from overseas.
April exports are likely to fall from March levels due to lower number of orders received in February and March, market participants said Thursday. "But after prices slumped in March, China's exports have become competitive in the global market," a Shanghai-based trader said, adding that orders might gradually improve in the coming weeks.
A second trader in Shanghai said, however, that exports might not recover significantly until domestic prices bottom out.
Over the past two months, Chinese steel has faced competition from alternative sources such as Turkey, India and Russia, as buyers in Southeast Asia switched to cheaper cargoes from those countries.