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China's subsidised aluminium 'distorting global supply, demand'

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The OECD said in a report last month that China's "unprecedented" increase in output has fuelled concerns about excess capacity that's depressing prices "and threatening the viability of producers worldwide".

Beijing

CHINA'S huge subsidies for its aluminium makers are pulling more metal production into the Asian nation and fuelling excess plant capacity, according to Alcoa's chief, who is trying to rally US government officials globally to confront the issue.

Financial support for China's aluminium industry is "on an order of magnitude larger'' than in other countries, distorting global supply and demand balances for the metal, Alcoa chief executive officer Roy Harvey said in an interview at the company's Pittsburgh headquarters. The country that makes over half the world's aluminium lifted output last year to a record.

The comments come after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a report last month that China's "unprecedented" increase in output has fuelled concerns about excess capacity that's depressing prices "and threatening the viability of producers worldwide".

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Mr Harvey's views also suggest US tariffs alone won't be enough curb the flow of Chinese metal.

"That playing field simply isn't level," he said. "And that in turn means that you're getting this sucking sound of productive capacity, and now semi-fabricated products, into China. You're pulling more and more of that primary demand back into China, and it's only a gain for the Chinese."

Prices of benchmark aluminium fell 19 per cent last year, in part because of concern that US-China trade tensions would erode demand.

Demand for the metal is still "very strong," including in the aerospace, automotive and building industries, Mr Harvey said.

And China is making progress in cutting inefficient aluminium production, but newer primary metal production operations continue to surface and production of semi-fabricated products is starting to boom in the country, he said.

Charges that China subsidises its industries aren't new, and US frustrations with what it sees as unfair Chinese trade practices were a big driver in the Trump administration's decision last year to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. But Alcoa has called on the administration to address Chinese overcapacity directly, and is taking the case to other governments and organisations as well.

Mr Harvey said a good example of an effective approach may be the case brought to the World Trade Organisation by the Obama administration, which filed a complaint alleging Chinese subsidies to domestic aluminium producers were suppressing the metal's price.

"One of my main jobs personally is to try to rally the forces of those countries, and those governments and those industry associations that do play by the rules, to recognise the problem, and to take actions that start to bring a market back into better balance," he said. BLOOMBERG