(Adds reaction from other Russian steel producers, analysts)
By Anastasia Lyrchikova and Polina Devitt
MOSCOW, July 18 (Reuters) - Russian steel producers played down the impact of the European Union’s curbs on steel imports on Wednesday, which, according to analysts, may even allow some of them to increase supplies to the bloc compared with a year ago.
On Thursday, the EU will set the quotas for 23 steel product categories at the average of imports over the past three years, with a 25 percent tariff set for volumes exceeding those amounts.
The quotas, which are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, are designed to prevent a surge of steel imports into the bloc following the U.S. imposition of tariffs on incoming steel and aluminium.
“We regret that world-leading states continue to maintain a policy of protectionism and are thereby damaging the longstanding world trading system and contributing to further uncertainty in the markets,” said Severstal, the largest supplier of Russian steel products to the EU.
The EU’s decision will not have a significant impact on Severstal’s financial results due to the flexibility of its distribution channels, it said, adding that it planned to continue its supplies to European customers within the announced quotas.
Russia is one of the main exporters of steel to the EU along with China, India, South Korea, Turkey and Ukraine. For Russian steel products, the EU is the largest export market due to the relatively short transportation distance.
Severstal’s rival, NLMK, also hopes to continue business as usual despite the EU’s curbs, it said. Other players in the Russian steel market - Evraz, for which Europe is not the main market, and MMK, which supplies steel products to the bloc - declined to comment.
Severstal, NLMK and MMK may even increase their 2018 sales to the EU compared with 2017 as the new quotas are estimated to be materially higher then their 2017 sales to the bloc, analysts at BCS said. (Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova and Polina Devitt; writing by Polina Devitt; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jan Harvey)