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Indian steel firms go global

June 15, 2006 12:06 IST
The Indian steel industry has come of age and chasing its fortunes with calculated risk pertaining to a dynamic global geopolitical climate.

A fortnight back, Jindal Steel and Power won a global bid to develop Bolivia's El Mutun mines and plans to invest $2.3 billion in the project.

Both Tata Steel and Essar Steel have been in talks with the Iranian government for setting up integrated steel plants at Bandar Abbas with a combined output of about 10 million tonne.

Ispat Industries has already invested in Zimbabwe and is believed to be exploring opportunity in Libya and Nigeria.

Both Bolivia and Iran have new nationalist governments and volatile political environment. They are both blessed with an abundance of iron ore and natural gas apart from cheap labour.

Both are known to have adopted a hardline against the United States with Bolivian President Evo Morales going on record to say that he was on the superpower's hitlist.

Iran's insistence on developing its nuclear programme has irked most of the global powers. Morales nationalised Bolivia's oil and gas industry last month.

He in fact sent troops to occupy the oil and gas fields and ordered foreign companies to renegotiate their agreements with state-run energy company YPFB or face expulsion.

JSPL, however, said that its proposed $2.3 billion investment in South America's poorest country - Bolivia (largest FDI there) - is driven by abundant opportunity there.

"If you have the resources, then country is not a barrier. The abundance of energy, ore and labour is too good an opportunity to ignore besides the captive market there," says Vikrant Gujral, JSPL's vice-chairman and chief executive, who spent over a week in La Paz, Bolivia's capital, hammering out the deal with the government.

Industry executives say that in an increasingly globalised market, companies with ambitious growth plans cannot afford to have myopic and country-specific viewpoints.

"The growth in the steel industry has to be global and if India wants to become a globalised economic power, it is essential that Indian companies leave their comfort zones. Now it is a now-or-never situation for us. Almost 80 per cent of raw materials are owned by 6-7 companies and if we do not act now, even the remaining 20 per cent will be lost," they said.

Industry analysts say that every project, be it in India or abroad has its own pros and cons and political risks should be assessed in the right perspective.

"Now is the time for Indian steel companies to move in. If we wait for political situations to get resolved, then costs involved will be much higher. It is because we are willing to take calculated risks which others are avoiding, we get the first movers' advantage," said Indian Steel Alliance's Moosa Raza.

John Satish K in New Delhi
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