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India's April-May steel imports hit five-year high on buoyant domestic demand

A worker observes an electric furnace inside a steel factory on the outskirts of Jammu

By Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's finished steel imports touched a five-year high in the first two months of the fiscal year that began in April, with the country continuing to be a net importer, according to provisional government data seen by Reuters.

Steel demand has been buoyant in India, the world's second-biggest crude steel producer, as the country remained a bright spot globally with robust demand from its construction and automotive sectors.

India imported 1.1 million metric tons of finished steel between April and May, up 19.8% from a year earlier, the data showed.

India's steel mills, alarmed by a sharp rise in imports, have repeatedly called for government interventions and safeguard measures. The federal Ministry of Steel has resisted such calls, citing strong local demand.

China was a top exporter of steel to India in recent months, alongside South Korea. Major Indian steel producers such as Tata Steel have flagged Chinese imports as a "growing concern."

Meanwhile, India's finished steel consumption jumped 10.5% to a six-year high at 23 million tons in April-May, reflecting buoyant demand for the alloy in one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Rapid economic growth and higher infrastructure spending have turned India into a lucrative market for Indian and global steel makers, particularly with steel demand slowing down in Europe and the United States.

India was a net importer of finished steel during the previous fiscal year that ended in March. The country imported 8.3 million metric tons of finished steel, up 38.1% from the prior year.

The country's finished steel exports fell to their lowest in at least six years. Overseas shipments of steel totalled 0.9 million tons between April and May, down 39.6% year-on-year, the data showed.

Crude steel output stood at 24.6 million tons, up 4.9% from a year earlier.

(Reporting by Neha Arora; Editing by Mayank Bhardwaj and Varun H K)