Speaking at a panel discussion regarding the risks and opportunities facing the Turkish steel industry at the 15th SteelOrbis “New Horizons in Steel Markets” annual conference held virtually on December 1-3 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mehmet Çakmur, general manager at M Steel Dış Ticaret, commented on the structural disruptions in the Turkish steel sector and the reasons for them. Stating that these disruptions are due to investments which had been made without sufficient planning, due to a lack of analysis of customers’ needs and data collection problems, Mr. Çakmur stated that all of these issues result from an unplanned economy. “There is no institute or organization in Turkey which guides the market in terms of new trends and the needs of the customers. Everyone is making the investment he/she wants. This problem can be solved only when a crisis occurs or when the government guides the investors in the direction of the benefit of the country. Commencing a business only after seeing from someone else that it is profitable hinders the first investor from expanding his business,” he said.
Muammer Bilgiç, general director of Bilecik Demir Çelik, also agreed with this opinion and said that structural corruption in the sector results in inefficient usage of the limited sources of the country. Mr. Bilgiç also stated that consolidations in the steel industry via mergers and acquisitions in foreign countries are not much considered by Turkish mills since Turkish companies are mostly subject to private ownership. He went on to say that it is a very wrong attitude not to consider consolidations in a sector which has serious financing issues. “If you want to become the biggest steel producer in Europe, then you should go in the direction of major producers’ management patterns,” he commented.
One of the topics discussed during the panel were the free trade agreements among regions. According to Bilgiç, “The world’s center of gravity has changed” and the recent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed by ASEAN countries is encouraging free trade in opposition to trade measures. He said that Turkey has a significant geopolitical advantage though it is not using this effectively, adding, “In its international relations, Turkey is mostly thinking of political parameters rather than using economic parameters. We need to look at diplomacy as an art for negotiation and involvement in partnerships which focus on economic gains. On the same issue, Mehmet Çakmur stated that the markets that foreign countries keep an eye on are Turkey’s neighboring counties and that Turkey can focus on these markets. “We should think about how to collaborate with Africa and the Middle East. Protectionist measures will not continue forever, but are likely to remain in the medium term because of new agreements,” he said. Çakmur also stated that Turkish mills can fill the absence that China has left in the global market, adding that this is a big opportunity.
Meanwhile, Muammer Bilgiç mentioned the steps that European Union (EU) is taking in terms of environmental measures and carbon footprint and said that countries will take this as a criteria when doing trade. “The EU is working seriously on this issue and has an €800 million-worth investment plan. China is also taking radical measures and implementing them strictly. I really do not want to see Turkey as the only country among the G20 which has not signed the Paris Agreement,” he said. Bilgiç also interpreted the value-added production issue from a different perspective. He said that Turkish mills should work on research and development projects which aim to decrease costs, instead of focusing just on new products. He said that, amid the rises in scrap prices, major steel producers in Europe are using hydrogen when processing iron ore and, as a result, they are decreasing their carbon footprint and easing their dependency on scrap as a raw material. He said Turkey is not even available to finance any research for alternative raw materials, while he said that the issues of metals efficiency and energy efficiency should be worked on to achieve value-added production.
As for China’s decision to resume scrap imports, Mr. Bilgiç said that, considering the expectation that China will import 10 million mt of scrap in 2021 while Turkey’s annual scrap imports amount to 20 million mt, there may be a problem with scrap supply, adding that the biggest risk for the Turkish steel industry is raw material supply. On the same issue, Çakmur said that he did not think that there will be a supply shortage but that costs will increase in the coming period and so Turkish mills should find alternative sources.