China, the world’s top steel producer, might become a net exporter of steel products as early as this year because production was outpacing demand, the London-based Iron and Steel Statistics Bureau said.

  China, which became the world’s top steel importer only in 2002, emerged as the No. 5 exporter of steel last year. It still imported some products, but its net import position halved to about 15 million tons from 30 million tons in 2003.

  “There is a possibility of China changing from being a ... net steel importer to a net steel exporter” on a full-year basis, said Steve Mackrell, director of the bureau.

  “I think it is going to happen sometime,” he told a conference organized by the China Iron and Steel Association. “And it could be as early as this year.”

  Mackrell said on a monthly basis China had been a net exporter of steel between September and December.

  Chinese industry officials said the government was looking into scrapping tax rebates for steel exports to discourage overseas shipments of the energy-intensive products.