* Steel exports hit lowest since Feb 2014
* Feb steel exports at 5.75 mln T, Jan-Feb at 13.17 mln T
* Iron ore imports rise on year as mills raise output
SHANGHAI, March 8 Chinese steel exports tumbled
to a three-year low in February, customs data showed on
Wednesday, lower than expectations, as steelmakers in the
world's top producer shifted to meeting rising demand at home.
Shipments for the month were 5.75 million tonnes, the lowest
since February 2014, data from the General Administration of
Customs showed. It was down 29.1 percent from a year ago and
down 22.5 percent from January.
"We understand that strong prices in the domestic market has
lured mills to reduce shipment overseas but we didn't expect
they would cut exports so much. If the big decline continues,
upside room for domestic prices might be capped," said Zhao
Chaoyue, an analyst with Merchant Futures in Shenzhen.
The sharp drop in exports could blunt criticism by
steelmakers in the United States and other global producers that
China is dumping excess material abroad.
A rally in steel prices has prompted Chinese steelmakers to
raise production. Rebar futures on the Shanghai Futures Exchange
have risen 18.5 percent this year.
A senior trader in Hangzhou expected Chinese steel exports
to stay at similar levels to February during March given
overseas buyers are reluctant to accept rising offers from
Total exports for the first two months, which smoothes out
the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday falling at different
times, fell 25.7 percent to 13.17 million tonnes, data showed.
Imports of steel rose from a year ago to 1.09 million tonnes
in February, up 17 percent. Total imports for the first two
months of 2017 jumped 17.6 percent from a year ago to 2.18
China's iron ore imports rose to 83.49 million tonnes in
February, up 13 percent from a year ago, as steelmakers
increased production and restocked the raw material.
Total arrivals for the first two months of the year rose
12.6 percent to 175.3 million tonnes from a year ago.
(Reporting by Ruby Lian and Josephine Mason; Editing by