July 2015 | Christabelle Noronha

'The Gulf region is a key regional market for us'

Anil Jhanji, Tata Steel’s director of regional market development, sounds an optimistic note in this interview about the company’s operations in the Middle East and the opportunities available for further growth in the region.

What is the nature of Tata Steel’s business engagements in the Gulf region?
We have a prime site in the Jebel Ali Free Zone, Dubai, which was opened in 2003. That said, the companies that make up today’s Tata Steel have been functioning in the region for decades. The Jebel Ali operation comprises a 30,000 square metre waterside facility with the flexibility to be used for both import and export activities. The site is managed by Tata Steel in Europe but through it we sell premium steel products from the group’s worldwide operations. Sales from Europe include strip and rail products, and from India we sell products that are manufactured by Tinplate Co of India and our wire division.

We see the Gulf region as a key regional market for us. We have in recent years refocused our attention on the sales of products that we ourselves make, and in boosting the technical support we offer customers in the sectors where we have the potential to support their success.

Could you tell us about the two recent Tata Steel projects: the supply of steel to Dubai Metro and for a new railway line in Saudi Arabia?
Infrastructure, be it transport or construction, is a crucial sector for our products. The Dubai Metro is officially the world’s longest fully-automated metro network, spanning 47 miles and with two operational lines. It is quite a feat of modern transport engineering. We supplied more than 60,000 square metres of our ComFlor composite floor decking for the footbridges, walkways, platforms and all elevated public areas of the metro.

ComFlor is a profiled steel deck specifically designed for rapid installation of flooring in lightweight buildings with large spans. It’s a product with an excellent reputation. The floor decking we supplied had to meet the demands of complex architectural design and cope with the footfalls generated by the 200,000 passengers who now use the metro system daily.

Also, we are midway through supplying 60,000 tonnes of high-quality rail for a new high-speed line linking the cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. This new railway will allow millions of pilgrims to cross the 444km between the two cities at speeds of up to 200mph. The line will cross desert land, withstanding temperatures ranging from freezing to 50oC, as well as sandstorms and flash floods. We succeeded in securing this prestigious project thanks to the strength of the Tata Steel brand in the rail sector and our ability to demonstrate that we could deliver the required volumes of high-quality rail on time.

Which are the other sectors that Tata Steel caters to in the Middle East?
Rail and construction are two of the key sectors for us, but we also supply products and services to other sectors that play to our strengths. We see great potential in the energy sector, which is huge in this region. We serve the geography’s growing packaging industry; domestic canning start-ups are creating new demand for our packaging steels.

Our strip products sell well in general sectors such as tube-making, re-rolling, drums and barrels, and office furniture. Again, localisation of manufacturing is creating new demand in these areas. In addition, we supply high-value special and alloy steels from our speciality steels business in the United Kingdom and electrical steels for power generation and electrical motors from our European sites.

With huge infrastructure projects expected to be taken up, especially with the 2020 International Expo in Dubai and the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar, what kind of opportunities do you see?
With the World Expo and the Qatar World Cup on the horizon, we see opportunities in the short to medium term in these projects. The region also continues to invest heavily in its transport infrastructure and will remain a global power in the oil and gas industry.

Do you have plans to set up a manufacturing facility in the region? What would be the likely investment in such a facility?
Our site at Jebel Ali in Dubai is not just a sales office; it is also a manufacturing operation. We run two production lines for ComFlor composite floor decking. This product has fast-growing sales and is providing a useful opportunity to add value to our strip products range.

Is Tata Steel involved in the larger Central Asia and North Africa markets from Dubai?
The primary focus of the Jebel Ali facility is the Middle East, but we do supply to other regions through this office. We recently completed, for example, a construction project in Nigeria using ComFlor from our Dubai operation.

This article is a part of the special report on the Tata group's operations in the Middle East and North Africa region in the July 2015 issue of Tata Review:
Tata Sons: An enriching relationship
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