BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s top steelmaking region of Hebei will cut 14 million tonnes of annual steelmaking capacity in both this year and next year as it strives to improve air quality, the province’s Communist Party head said on Thursday.
Speaking at a meeting of Hebei delegates at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, Wang Dongfeng also said the province would reduce its concentration of PM2.5 – lung-damaging particulate matter of less than 2.5 microns in diameter – by at least 5 percent this year from 2018 levels.
“We would rather sacrifice GDP in order to guard blue sky in Beijing. That’s a political task,” Wang said.
Hebei province, which surrounds the capital Beijing in northern China, produced around 237 million tonnes of crude steel in 2018, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. That accounts for more than 25 percent of last year’s national total in China, the world’s biggest steelmaker.
Home to major steel hubs such as Tangshan and Handan, Hebei’s average PM2.5 concentration in 2018 was 56 micrograms, according to government air quality data. The annual average was down 13 percent year-on-year but still well above a national reading of 39 micrograms.
At the start of this week’s parliamentary gathering, China set its 2019 GDP growth target at 6.0 to 6.5 percent, versus growth last year at 6.6 percent, the slowest since 1990.
Unlike last year, China did not set a national target for reduction in steel capacity in 2019. A goal to cut 150 million tonnes by 2020 was achieved by the end of 2018.
At the same meeting on Thursday, Hebei governor Xu Qin said the province had eliminated 82.23 million tonnes of annual steel capacity in 2013-18, while the number of steel companies operating in Hebei had halved over that period.
By the end of 2020, the total steel capacity cut by Hebei will be equivalent to that of the world’s second-biggest steel-producing country, Xu said.
India was the world’s second-biggest steel producer in 2018, lifting output by 5 percent to more than 106 million tonnes to leapfrog Japan, according to the World Steel Association.
Reporting by Muyu Xu and Tom Daly; Additional reporting by David Stanway in SHANGHAI; Editing by Richard Pullin and Tom Hogue