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Who CARES about UK steel rebar? Quite a few, actually

UK reinforcing bar is not the world’s most relevant steel market. Perhaps because it’s circa 800,000 mt/year, which is peanuts compared with China’s rebar output in excess of 200 million mt/year. Fair to say, the UK is not a price setter for rebar.

But there’s been an interesting story rumbling on for about a year now over whether imported Chinese material complied with UK certification for the construction industry standards (CARES).

Despite its seemingly trivial nature in relation to the global steel market, those who rely on the UK for their daily bread have gotten quite worked up about the matter.

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In September last year the British Association of Reinforcement sent out a quality alert about non-compliant rebar, which it said failed BS4449 of CARES. Celsa, the sole UK rebar producer, said the material “did not comply with British Standard.” An end-buyer, however, maintained the quality was good, while the importer vociferously denied Celsa’s claims.

Of that first claim, from a CARES-approved mill, the association said the steel was “perfectly satisfactory.”

But throughout this year Chinese rebar has continued to pour into the UK market, as it has many others given the country’s widely publicized and pesky structural oversupply issue. One trader said this week about 120,000 mt had been delivered into the UK so far this year, compared to a mere 11,000 mt for the whole of 2013.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a fair bit of mudslinging between the importers and Celsa/UK Steel. Another complaint was lodged with CARES recently by UK Steel, which said “multiple sources of rebar currently on the British market” failed to meet British Standard 4449 under their testing. The samples’ ribs exceeded 10% of the nominal diameter of the bar, the maximum permitted under the standard, it said.

In what some traders have termed scaremongering, the producers’ association warned rebar fabricators and contractors to test stocks of imported non-EU rebar–particularly Chinese–to ensure it is compliant. It also alluded to issues with Turkish material. CARES has found none so far.

The UK Steel tested Chinese material comes from a different CARES-approved mill than to the first case.

A trader close to the investigation said one of the latest samples was a 12 mm bar that “came from a bin.” His claim has not been verified. He said Celsa–with documentation to verify his claim–itself failed BS4449 at one point in time. The documentation, from CARES, was dated October 2012.

A UK and Irish fabricator last month sent a letter to its customers after the latest UK Steel claim to CARES, saying “We are talking about a fraction of a millimeter in the difference of the rib. In no way was the actual chemical composition or strength of the material supplied in any way in question.”

CARES is still investigating the second complaint, it said recently.