Mideast aluminium producers dismiss Trump talk, target US exports

November 23, 2016 3:10 pm

Dockside piles of aluminium ingots wired together to aid bulk handling by crane and fork lift trucks waiting onward transportation. Alamy

* Producers actively targeting US, dismissing chances of Trump’s rhetoric becoming policy

* Middle East is home to some of the world’s biggest aluminium players

* Auto sector among the biggest draws for Gulf producers

Middle Eastern aluminium producers are actively targeting the United States for exports, executives said on Tuesday, dismissing the possibility that President-elect Donald Trump’s protectionist election rhetoric will translate into policy.

In his campaign, Trump argued that international trade agreements had hurt US workers and the country’s competitiveness and promised to pull out of or renegotiate a number of multilateral accords, which facilitate free trade.

Conciliation

Since his surprise election, Gulf executives have taken a conciliatory tone and said they were open for business with the United States, even after his campaign comments on Muslims, which drew outrage across the Islamic world.

On both his comments on Muslims and trade policy, heads of the major aluminium firms told an industry event it was empty talk and, instead, focused on the business opportunities.

“For the industry, he will be good as you will see a pick-up in things like car sales, and he has talked a lot about improving the infrastructure,” said Tim Murray, chief executive of Aluminium Bahrain (Alba), adding he was “cautiously optimistic” about the outlook.

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Big players

The Middle East is home to some of the world’s biggest aluminium players, although their share of the market is dwarfed by China, which accounts for around 55 per cent of total output.

Emirates Global Aluminium is in the top five globally, with annual capacity of 2.4 million tonnes, and Alba will be the world’s largest single-site smelter when its expansion is completed in 2019 with annual production of 1.5m tonnes.

Most of the Gulf executives said they were either looking to begin exporting to America or ramp up existing export levels.

Ma’aden Aluminium’s President, Abdulaziz al-Harbi, told reporters on the sidelines of the event the Saudi Arabian firm had started the qualification process to sell into the United States this quarter. He did not say how long this would take.

Khalid Laram, CEO of Qatar’s Qatalum, said during a panel session the state-owned company was seeking more sales into the auto industry in the United States and Europe after experiencing difficult market conditions in Turkey and parts of Asia.

Auto demand

The auto sector was among the biggest draws for Gulf producers, noting initiatives to make cars and trucks lighter than when steel was used, along with packaging.

Ultimately, according to EGA Chief Executive Abdulla Kalban, the United States cannot afford to exclude foreign aluminium because of the huge gap between domestic supply and demand.

“They will have to restart all their smelters, which will mean the cost of production will go up and this will impact the downstream industries,” Kalban said.

US production of aluminium in October was down by more than half on the same month of 2015, according to trade group the Aluminum Association.

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Reuters
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