Author Archives: Sohrab Darabshaw

Late last year, India’s National Aluminium Company (Nalco) had talked of striking up a joint venture (JV) in India with two companies – Canadian firm Almex and Rusal of Russia.

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This week, according to a news report, Nalco has firmed up plans to set up the JV with Almex for the production of automotive-grade aluminum. The multimillion-dollar project, according to the report in Business Standard, is expected to come up at the downstream aluminum park at Angul in Odisha Province, near Nalco’s aluminum smelting unit over 50 acres of land.

Almex reportedly has responded to the expression of interest by Nalco. The JV will produce auto-grade aluminum, and also of special alloys that find applications in aerospace. At present, this high-grade aluminum is not manufactured in the country. Nalco will have the majority equity in the JV.

In India, aluminum makes its way into about 300 applications, compared with over 3,000 applications worldwide.

The second JV expected with Rusal, too, is expected to manufacture special-grade aluminum to be used in metro trains, electric vehicles, aerospace and automobile sector, according to Nalco Chairman and Managing Director T.K. Chand.

When ready, the JV between Nalco and Almex will have an annual production capacity of 60,000 tons. Nalco has already committed supply of 50,000 tons a year of molten aluminum to downstream companies that chose to install their units at the park. Almex specializes in the production of aerospace-grade aluminum, while Rusal is a big player in primary aluminum, aluminum alloys, foil and alumina.

Propelled by profits, Nalco has been working on expanding its aluminum, alumina and power capacities.

The company earlier announced it planned to achieve a target of over 1 million tons of production capacity by 2020. In order to reach this goal, the company was implementing several new major capital expenditures.

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The Odisha aluminum park has already bagged one overseas investment from Bahrain-based Midal Cables.

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India’s trying to do an OPEC in solar energy, screamed some headlines in Indian newspapers after the founding ceremony of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) was held here recently, witnessed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.

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It was during former French President Francois Hollande’s visit to India in January 2016 that Hollande and Modi laid the foundation stone for the ISA headquarters in Gurugram district in northern India, adjacent to the National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE).

For the uninitiated, the ISA is a treaty-based alliance of over 120 countries, most of them being “sunshine countries,” which lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Its primary objective is to work for efficient exploitation of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

In addition to land, India has also contributed U.S. $27 million to build the ISA campus and has committed to meeting the operational expenditure of this body for the first five years.

Now comes the news that the French government will be committing €700 million in investment to this alliance.

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The Indian metal industry seems divided for now over the implications of U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of the intention to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

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News reports and statements by industry leaders, along with reports by research agencies, show no unanimity on how the decision by the U.S. government, if implemented, would affect trade in India aand other neighboring Asian countries.

A report by news agency Press Trust of India (PTI), quoting industry leaders, said India will not be impacted much.

President Trump said last week he had decided to impose a steep 25% import tariff on steel.

Quoting H Shivram Krishnan, Essar Steel commercial director, the PTI report said the U.S. decision was not compliant with World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations. Former Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) chairman Sushil Kumar Roongta said that the move may impact some of India’s steel exports to the U.S.

On the other hand, Sanak Mishra, former managing director of SAIL’s Rourkela Steel Plant, told PTI the decision may not have a significant impact on India as of its total steel imports, U.S. imports only 2% from India.

Some experts in India believe if the U.S. President went ahead with his decision, it would spark off a retaliatory war between exporting nations and the US, disrupting the just-about-recovering global steel industry.

On the official front, the Indian government, without naming the U.S., has let it be known that it may not exactly be a wise move. In a nuanced statement, Indian trade envoy J S Deepak said the government shared the concerns that some members had expressed on recent developments that could lead to new tariff barriers and even a trade war.

The envoy added that application of tariffs must respect the ceiling of bound rates agreed to at the WTO.

Several countries, including the European Union, China and Japan, to name a few, have criticized President Trump’s announcement.

India has also cautioned about the threats posed by the U.S. to the WTO’s dispute settlement functions because of the continued delay in selection and appointment of members to fill vacancies in the Appellate Body, the highest limb for adjudicating global trade disputes.

The U.S. is India’s largest export destination with U.S. $42.21 billion worth of shipments sent in 2016-17. But India’s steel and aluminum exports to the U.S. remain low. While steel exports to the U.S. stood at only U.S. $330 million, export of finished steel products were U.S. $1.23 billion in 2016-17. Total exports of aluminum and aluminum products stood at $350 million.

But a report in the Business Standard said India may have to brace itself for more imports from China into India as a result of the U.S. action.

On the other hand, ratings agency Moody’s said in a report that Asia, which produced more than two-thirds of the world’s steel, would “be minimally affected” when compared to the rest of America’s trading partners. Asian exports of aluminum and steel to the U.S. typically amount to less than 1% of GDP or exports, Moody’s reported.

Moody’s said the direct impact on steel companies would be manageable for the steel sector and rated steelmakers in Asia, because steel is predominantly traded within the region.

The CEO of Japanese giant Nippon Steel, the world’s second-largest steel producer by volume, has already dubbed Trump’s decision “regrettable.”

The one area likely to be affected if Trump goes ahead is metallic scrap imports. The U.S.’s imposition of import tariff on primary metals, including steel and aluminum, was likely to hit India’s 10 million tons (MT) of metallic scrap import annually, according to this news report. The U.S. makes up 20% of this import.

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More use of scrap as raw material for metal producers in the Unites States will result into its lower availability for importers across the world. This means scrap price would move up outside the U.S., which would impact secondary metal producers into India, according to Sanjay Mehta of Material Recycling Association of India.

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It seems all too familiar — one step ahead, two steps back.

The cancelation by India’s top court, the Supreme Court, of all iron ore mining permits in Goa, one of the country’s top producing provinces for this raw material, has led to concerns being raised in industry and and economic circles of the country (not to mention protests by miners like Vedanta).

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Mining in the state of Goa, which, along with tourism, is one of the major sources of revenue and people’s livelihood, will stop after March 15, 2018. The local government will then have to issue new licenses.

Under the new set of rules laid out by the order, ownership is back to the local government; now it will have to auction the leases, as required by the law.

Some agree with the court ruling that held the local government responsible for not following due process in renewing the 88 mining leases for 20 years with retrospective effect from 2007. The prime minister’s office has also sought a report from the government of Goa on the impact of the court ruling.

Incidentally, the Anil Agarwal-run Vedanta Resources is one of the biggest iron ore miners in the state.

Other than Vedanta, this latest Supreme Court ruling will affect other miners, too, many of them local.

It may be recalled that similar judicial action was initiated in 2012 when illegal mining in Goa was ordered shut down. In the year before the ban, Goa had exported about 50 million tons (MT) of iron ore, but the Supreme Court later limited production in the state to 20 MT a year (most of which gets exported to China).

Now comes a report by an international agency that India no longer featured among the “most attractive regions” for investment in the mining sector, probably as a possible fallout of the mining ban. The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute’s annual survey of mining companies ranked India in the bottom 10 countries, at 97 of 104, in the investment attractiveness index in 2016, but now had dropped it from the list of 91 countries in 2017.

A report in the Hindu BusinessLine said the mining ban in Goa would expectedly have a far-reaching impact, not only on the state, but also on India’s image as an investment destination, going by the report by the Canadian public policy think tank report.

Vedanta, for example, expected to produce around 5.5 MT of iron ore from Goa this fiscal year ending March 31. Next year is a question mark — for now.

Expectedly, Vedanta is not happy with the latest development. Agarwal told news agency PTI that the Supreme Court’s decision would “hamper India’s economic growth as raw material for making steel will have to be imported,  resulting in jobs being created outside the country rather than within.”

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Mining is a capital-intensive business — although it has potential, analysts in India are of the view that not many companies would want to put in money in lieu of such an uncertain business environment.

The restrictions put in time and again by the legislative and judiciary on the mining industry in the form of caps on iron mining in Goa and other states (such as Karnataka), and high export duties, were sending out “negative messages” to the world. While FY17 witnessed the highest inflow of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) — amounting to U.S. $43,478 million — into India, the mining sector could attract only U.S. $56 million. What was also needed to boost the mining sector was not only the required permissions, but also high-end technology and equipment to increase extraction and productivity.

All of that requires FDI, but with so much uncertainty, the question is: who will want to invest in India’s mining story?

Steel is the buzzword in India these days.

In addition to increased uptake, the revival in the steel cycle has also led to an unlikely output – many steel majors are now showing renewed interest in acquiring stressed Indian steel assets that have been put on the block for loan default.

Now, Indian steel is seeing an uptick in sales after almost a decade.

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The renewed interest in steel plants that are in a financial mess and have been put up for suitors is logical, analysts say, since most are going for approximately U.S. $600 per ton, while the rate to set up a new steel plant is almost about U.S. $800 per ton. Not to mention that buying an already up and running steel company means no hassles of taking government and other permissions.

What adds icing to the cake is many of these stressed assets are on the block for nothing else than the fact that most were set up at high costs, and other operational reasons.

Foremost in the race is Tata Steel Ltd., with its highest bid for the insolvent Bhushan Steel Ltd. and Bhushan Power & Steel Ltd. The former has offered to pay up to about U.S. $ 7 billion (Rs 45,000 crore) for Bhushan Steel and about U.S. $3.7 billion (Rs 24,500 crore) for Bhushan Power. Others are Numetal Mauritius, a company having VTB Bank as a majority shareholder and the Ruias as a minority partner, and ArcelorMittal for the stressed Essar Steel. Tata’s last major acquisition was the U.S. $13.5-billion Corus deal in 2007.

Tata Steel currently has 13 million tons per annum (MTPA) capacity; if it managed to grab the two Bhusan plants, it could add about 8.0 MTPA.

Bhushan Steel was sent for debt resolution by its lenders after the company failed to repay its dues worth about U.S. $8.62 billion (Rs 560 billion) under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016.

But according to a report in The Hindu Businessline, there is now one hiccup in Tata’s path.

Bhushan’s lenders have invited the U.K.-based Liberty House to also submit its bid for the assets, well after the deadline, which was Feb. 8 this year. Only JSW Steel and Tata Steel had submitted bids by the deadline.

Quoting a Liberty House spokesman, the report said it had been invited by the lenders to bid for both the Bhushan assets, and would be doing so within a fortnight.

When asked why the company had failed to bid before the deadline, the spokesperson said Liberty House had been finalizing its India strategy.

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In mid-February, ArcelorMittal India Pvt Ltd (AMIPL) submitted its offer for Essar Steel, which includes a detailed investment plan to address the operational issues in Essar’s existing asset base. The company has expressed confidence that with its industry expertise and “renowned operating prowess,” it was best equipped to implement a successful turnaround, which would be beneficial to Essar’s stakeholders.

India’s coal story is something that we at Metal Miner have tracked over the years. It’s no secret that of late, the world’s largest coal producer, Coal India Limited (CIL), has been facing some measure of criticism for not being able to meet certain targets.

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Now comes a document drawn up by the monolith itself which says CIL was “trailing global peers” in operating performance and technology adoption, while taxes & freight constitute 25% and 34%, respectively, of the cost consumers pay, undermining the monopoly’s competitiveness.

The document, titled “Vision 2030,” is quick to add that the cost structure of the Indian coal sector is still favorable and that cost of production is a concern for only about 10% of the output, according to the Economic Times.

CIL has pointed out that for coal transported over a distance up to 100 km, it received only 56% of the costs paid by consumers for procuring dry fuel. Taxes, duties and levies were about 34%, followed by freight at 10%. For transporting coal up to 500 km, Coal India received 41% of the total payments made by consumers while taxes, duties and levies constituted 25%, followed by railways at 34%.

CIL feels that although it produces coal at competitive rates, its own operating process was letting it down.

The report says there is a “significant gap” in productivity norms of similar class of equipment in mines in India and those around the world. For instance, similar class of shovels in international mines is operated 40-50% more hours annually than at CIL.

Coming at a time when the state-run miner reported a 4.21% increase in its consolidated net profit for the quarter ending December 2017, beating street expectations, “Vision 2030” seems like a wonderfully self-deprecating piece of writing and self-actualization.

Production during the quarter stood at 152.04 MT, up from 147.73 MT in the same period the previous year. The one thing that seems to have worked in its favor was earnings from e-auctions, although fuel supply agreement (FSA) realizations were a drag.

This is all very fine, but the vexed problem of not enough coal reaching many of India’s power plants remains.

An assurance by Indian Coal and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal that the thermal power plants’ demand for coal will be met by adequate supplies in the next financial year is supposed to suffice for now. The Power Ministry has demanded 615 MT of coal and 288 rakes for thermal power plants in the next financial year. As of February 11, there were 52 thermal units that had less than seven days of coal stocks, according to data from the Central Electricity Authority.

The minister’s optimism stems from the fact that they would receive speedier environmental clearances for expanding coal mines in India. The Union Government is said to be tackling low coal stocks in over 50 power plants in the country.

To be fair to CIL, the recent emergence of renewable energy as a viable key substitute, and the promises made under the Paris Agreement have eaten into its revenue. Imported coal as a viable substitute is another challenge the company faces. Incidentally, one of the stipulated aims of CIL’s Vision 2030 was to assess the future demand scenario for the coal sector in India up to 2030.

While talking about emergence of renewable energy as a key substitute for coal, the study specifically delves into the massive growth of the Indian solar sector in last two years.

The total capacity addition in solar over the last two years has been more than 8 GW, an increase of approximately 200% in the installed capacity. “Efficient use of materials, improved manufacturing process, improvement in cell efficiency, and decrease in prices of solar inverters and other ancillary parts in the electrical system are expected to continue driving the competitiveness of solar,” the study noted.

The study estimates that the regulatory framework for access and extraction of coal will continue getting stricter, leading to increases in the cost of compliance. In 2015, India migrated to auction as a mechanism for allocation of coal resources for extraction.

About 50% of CIL’s total production comes from 15 opencast mines with a total production of 279 MTPA (million tons per annum). Remaining 452 CIL mines produce only 274 MTPA, or approximately 0.60 MTPA per mine.

India’s coal sector is regulated at several levels with the central government, provincial governments and various local agencies involved in supervising the industry.

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Much of what CIL said in its report is true. Power utilities in India are said to be already scouting abroad for coal mines, with some having met with success.

In fact, on a recent visit, Poland’s Deputy Minister Marek Magierowski said his country’s expertise in mining, especially in coal, could help boost collaboration with India. Magierowski, who was in India for the Bangla Business Conference and the Raisina Dialogue, spoke about bilateral relations, Europe’s Russia problem and Poland’s Europe problem. The Minister also pointed out that for both nations, coal would remain important to their energy needs “despite the problems posed by regulations that have to comply with climate change.”

New research has shown that India achieved an operational solar power capacity of 20 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2017.

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Mercom India Research has claimed a record 9.5 GW of solar power capacity was likely added in 2017, taking the total solar power capacity operational in India to over 20 GWs. While there’s no official word from the Indian government yet, media reports said the figure did not match those released by the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy, but Mercom attributed the figures to its India Solar Project tracker.

If the new research is spot on, it shows, at least on paper, that the Indian government was well on its path of meeting revised capacity targets of 100 GW of installed solar power capacity by March 2022.

India has made a major push in the renewable energy sector, but ,according to some experts, it faces an uphill task vis-à-vis funding, since the plan will require U.S. $125 billion. The plan seeks to achieve an ambitious 175 GW renewable energy target by 2022.

For the solar projects alone, India will set up a U.S. $350 million fund, according to India’s Power Minister RK Singh.

The country, which receives twice as much sunshine as European nations, wants to make solar central to its renewable expansion. It expects renewable energy to make up 40% of installed power capacity by 2030, compared with 18.2% at the end of 2017.

The Power Minister told a gathering at an event organized recently by the International Solar Alliance in Abu Dhabi that India would achieve its target of 175 GW of installed renewable energy capacity well before 2020. The installed renewable power capacity was currently about 60 GW, and India planned to complete the bidding process by the end of 2019-20 to add a further 115 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by 2022, he added.

But a major hurdle that stands in the way of solar power expansion is the policy around the manufacturing of solar panels and their import.

While the Modi government has often emphasized the need to do away with protectionism in order to push solar power, one of the government’s ministries has proposed a 70% import duty on imported solar panels. While this was subsequently stayed by an order of a high court, sector experts have decried this kind of protectionism.

This lot points to the U.S., for example, saying that the country levies a safeguard tariff on imported solar modules and cells, starting at 30% in the first year, 25% in the second, 20% in the third, ending at 15% in the fourth.  They want the Indian government, too, to follow suit.

The government, on its part, does not seem averse to this, it would seem.

A news report said it was “weighing the option” of lowering the proposed 70% safeguard duty on imported solar modules and panels from China and Malaysia recommended by the Directorate-General of Safeguards.

The Standing Board on Safeguards, headed by the Commerce Secretary, which is currently examining the proposal, is yet to make its recommendation to the Finance Ministry as it is deliberating upon the appropriateness of the high duty proposed by DG Safeguards, a government official told the BusinessLine newspaper.

The government has to walk a tightrope, on this issue. While domestic manufacturers of solar panels would definitely benefit from a high safeguard duty. On the other hand, it would increase the cost of production for local power producers.

Overall, on the renewable energy front, India expects foreign capital to make up for the bulk of its investments to meet its target. But the lack of a concrete policy coupled with the fact that at least three ministries involved never seem to be on the same page vis-à-vis renewable energy, has ensured that only local banks and financial institutions have invested in these type of projects so far.

Just a couple of days ago, though, there was some cheer on the foreign investment front.

One of China’s biggest solar panel makers, LONGi Solar, announced it would invest nearly U.S. $309 million in India in the wake of U.S. protectionism and India’s anti-dumping measures threat. The company’s total investment will include $240 million in construction investment and $68 million in working capital, to double the capacity in Andhra Pradesh from 500 MW to 1 GW.

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This could be the start of a new wave of investments, some experts hope. In 2017, India imported 24.1% solar products from China. China produced a total of 76 GW of solar modules and 68 GW of solar photovoltaic cells, up over 33% from the previous year. LONGi’s investment is expected to lower costs.

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There’s a feel-good story emerging out of India vis-a-vis the steel sector. A recent policy document showed a rise in steel exports in 2017, while a freshly released World Steel Association (WSA) report recorded a growth in crude steel production last year.

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The Economic Survey of India 2017-18, a document released just prior to the union budget in India, has said a mix of policy inputs for local steel, the rise in global steel prices and a slew of efforts by the Indian government to protect the domestic steel market from cheap imports had all helped in raising steel exports from India to an “unprecedented” 53% rise during the April-December 2017, during which output rose to 7.6 million tons (MT).

Local consumption itself rose 5.2% during that period to 64.9 MT. Sale of finished steel rose 5.6% to 79.3 MT during the same period, largely because of a boost from India’s core infrastructure sector.

According to the WSA report, India’s crude steel production grew by 6.2% to 101.4 MT in 2017 compared to 95.5 MT in the previous year. While China remained the world leader by producing 831.7 MT in 2017 (up 5.7% from 786.9 MT the previous year), Japan took the second spot, but witnessed a decline in steel output by 0.1% to 104.7 MT in 2017 (from 104.8 MT in 2016).

The WSA report noted world steel production touched 1,691.2 MT for 2017, up by 5.3% compared to the 2016 output of 1,606.3 MT, which sector analysts say is good news.

Specifically, India overtook the U.S. to become the world’s third-largest steel producer.

Back up a few years and India was looking at surplus steel production capacity and the flooding of the market with cheap steel from countries such as China and South Korea.

After some loud complaints by local steel bodies and producers, the Indian government raised customs duty and imposed anti-dumping duty. The Minimum Import Price (MIP) was introduced in February 2016, and all these measures had ensured the recovery by domestic producers, the Economic Survey said.

In between, somewhere in 2016-17, exports started dipping again, and the government then notified anti-dumping duties and countervailing duties on various steel products in February 2017. This included imposition of anti-dumping duties on imports of seamless tubes, pipes and hollow profiles of iron, alloy or non-alloy steel originating and exported from China. Similar duties were slapped on hot-rolled coils (HRC), HR plates, cold-rolled (CR) products, wire rods and color coated steel. The government also levied countervailing duty on imports of stainless steel cold rolled flat products of all grades/series from China, Korea, the European Union, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand and the U.S.

In 2017, the Indian government rolled out a new steel policy, as reported by MetalMiner.

To add to this, preference to locally manufactured select iron and steel products has been enforced since May 2017. These measures have helped keep a check on imports, which went up by only 10.9% in April-December 2017 to 6.1 MT, the Economic Survey said.

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India’s domestic consumption of steel per capita is around 65 kg, compared to global average of 235 kg — a worrisome factor in an otherwise positive growth story for Indian steel. India, however, is pushing for an increase in per capita steel consumption to 160 kg by 2030.

Tata Steel is turning bullish on growth in India. Its global CEO and managing director, T.V. Narendran, has said the time had come for Tata Steel Ltd to start its next leg of expansion.

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“We see great opportunity to grow in India and we have said we want to grow in India. We are well positioned because we have organic and inorganic opportunities to grow,” he told reporters recently.

The CEO said the company’s Kalinganagar project in the Odisha province of India had “shaped up well” and was in full production. It was time to move on the second phase of expansion, already approved by the board.

The Tata Steel board has approved the next phase of capacity expansion in Kalinganagar to 8 million tons per annum, up from 3 million tons at present. The expansion will cost over U.S. $4 billion.

The total capacity of Tata Steel India operations is 13 million tons per annum at present. The expansion is expected to be concluded in 48 months, Tata Steel said in a regulatory filing in December 2017.

What is interesting is that as part of its expansion plans, Tata Steel had submitted bids for at least three stressed steelmakers: Bhushan Steel Ltd, Electrosteel Steels Ltd and Essar Steel India Ltd.

The Tata Steel CEO said the current period was a “great opportunity” for anyone in the steel industry with the appetite and ambition to grow in India. To fund its aggressive expansion plans, the company’s board on Friday approved raising up to U.S. $2 billion (Rs 12,800 crore) through a rights issue.

Starting Feb 14, the rights issue will remain open for subscription for two weeks. Tata Steel had recently raised U.S. $1.3 billion (Rs 8,304 crore) at current exchange rate, through a sale of unsecured bonds in overseas markets. The proceeds of the issue will be used to refinance the group’s offshore obligations.

Incidentally, Tata Steel is also the chief sponsor of the triennial steel conference, organized by the Iron and Steel Institute of Japan, The Chinese Society for Metals, The Korean Institute of Metals and Materials, and the Indian Institute of Metals. It’s coming to India after 2003.

About 70 keynote speakers, half of them from countries such as China, Korea, Japan, Netherlands, U.K., U.S., Germany, Belgium, Canada, are expected to address the meet.

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“Academics from the University of Cambridge, and Chongqing University, China, heads of research labs at Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal, Japan and POSCO, Korea will address issues such as surface treatment and corrosion, steel products and applications and environmental engineering and waste utilization,” said Anand Sen, Tata Steel’s president of TQM and Steel Business.

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This development could bring some cheer to India’s Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), the state-run corporation that has a monopoly in the supply of railway tracks, and some of the domestic steel companies.

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India and Iran recently signed a deal worth U.S. $2 billion dollars for cooperation in the rail sector. The agreement included a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) worth $600 million that will enable Iran to purchase locomotives and freight cars from India. The new trains in Iran will help transport passengers and freight in Iran.

What’s more, they will also be used in the Chabahar-Zahedan railroad to accelerate development of the Chabahar Port, which will eventually connect to Central Asia and, ultimately, Europe.

Iran had recently announced the launch of the construction of the Mashhad-Zahedan railway. This is part of the plan to connect Central Asia with the Iranian port of Chabahar on the Indian Ocean coast.

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