* Steel policy aimed at boosting annual capacity to 300 mln T
* Reuters reported govt plan on mandatory local steel use in March
* India may soon announce long-term duties on some steel products (Adds cabinet’s decision)
By Neha Dasgupta
NEW DELHI, May 3 (Reuters) - India’s cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal to make the use of local steel mandatory for government’s infrastructure projects, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, aimed at boosting the sales of local companies.
The ministry’s flagship National Steel Policy, which seeks to outline a roadmap to increase the country’s annual steel production to 300 million tonnes by 2025, was also passed by the cabinet, Jaitley said.
An official with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters earlier that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet might clear the proposals.
The policy is broadly seen as a continuation of India’s protectionist stance against countries such as China and Russia.
It also comes in the backdrop of a trade probe launched by U.S. President Donald Trump against cheap imports into the United States, in a move that could aggravate trade friction among global producers.
India wants to nearly triple its production capacity by the next decade and acquire technology to produce higher value products including automotive steel.
The government policy will also provide a guiding light for Indian steel companies that are seeking to expand while saddled with huge debts.
In March, Reuters had reported the steel ministry was considering a move making it mandatory to use local steel - pitching it as a WTO-compliant move.
India is also expected to soon announce long-term duties on some steel products imported from China, Japan and Russia, despite complaints from some of the targeted countries.
Between April and March, India’s steel imports fell 37 percent year-on-year, data from a government body showed, primarily due to measures announced by the government.
The proposed National Steel Policy, which was floated in October by Niti Aayog, an influential government think-tank that replaced the Planning Commission, recommended measures to also reduce dependence on imported coking coal, lack of which recently crippled production after heavy rains in Australia created shortages. (Additional reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and C. K. Nayak; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and David Evans)