ArcelorMittal announced that it has signed a deal that would see a significant injection of Italian state funding go into the Ilva steelworks it took over in 2018, and has since resulted in major losses.
Per multiple media reports, ArcelorMittal had threatened to return the long-troubled Ilva steel complex back to the Italian government. The world’s largest steel company noted that it lost 2 million euros a day in 2019, and that it had been negotiating with the government (Rome). The reported deal will see Rome taking an equity stake at least equal to Arcelor Mittal’s remaining liabilities against the original purchase price for Ilva. If the deal is completed, the original lease and purchase agreement under which ArcelorMittal took over Ilva, would close by May 2022.
Under the investment plan, Ilva will invest in lower-carbon steelmaking technologies, with a DRI (Direct Reduced Iron) facility to be built, funded and operated by outside investors, and an electric arc furnace to be built by ArcelorMittal. If the new investment plan cannot be completed by Nov. 30, ArcelorMittal said it could withdraw from the deal, subject to an agreed payment.
The future of the plant has been a challenge for successive Italian governments seeking to clean up the polluted site in the southern city of Taranto while safeguarding thousands of jobs. Last year, ArcelorMittal announced it was pulling out of the 2018 takeover agreement after parliament scrapped a guarantee of legal immunity from prosecution over environmental risks during a clean-up of the heavily polluting factory. What follows is a brief summation of past WJI stories about the Ilva complex.
The integrated steel plant, whose product range includes wire rod, has employed as many as 16,000 people, and thousands more as contractors. Capacity topped 11 million metric tons (mmt), with production at times representing as much as 40% of Italy’s steel production. The flip side was the cost for those achievements.
In 1991, Taranto was described as the most polluted city in Italy and Western Europe, and declared a high environmental risk area by the Ministry of Environment. The Ilva steel complex was deemed the largest offender. For years, there were complaints about pollution from the massive site, including “red dust” that coated the area. The European Pollutant Emission Register estimated that dioxin emissions from the Taranto Ilva operations were responsible for 30% of all such reported emissions in Italy in 2002. An even higher number was reported for 2004.
In recent years, the news has been crushing on multiple levels for Ilva. ArcelorMittal was criticized by trade unions that blamed the steel giant as well as by the ruling anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S)—a foe of big industry—for exiting a deal that would have safeguarded thousands of jobs. Ultimately, opinion has been split between those who see the business as a necessity due to its providing revenue to the area, and those who say that the environmental price has been far too high.
U.K.-based Liberty, part of the global GFG Alliance that also owns Georgetown Steel, announced that it has agreed to buy four European steel plants, including a wire rod operation, from ArcelorMittal.
A press release said that the "landmark transaction" that raise Liberty’s total annual rolling capacity to over 15 million metric tons (mmt). The deal includes Mittal’s integrated works at Ostrava in the Czech Republic, which has some 6,000 employees. Products made there include wire rod, hot-rolled coil, sheets, rebar, merchant bar and light rail. More than half the production is exported.
The deal also includes three other plants—one in Galati, Romania, and two (Skopje and Piombino) in Italy—that produce a range of other steel products. The collective plants have some 12,500 employees. The deal was related to requirements for ArceloMittal, which is seeking to buy Ilva, a huge yet long-troubled steel giant in Italy.