LONDON, April 22 (Reuters) - Strong growth in top producer China pushed global steel production up slightly in March from the same month last year, offsetting a decline in many other producing countries, data showed on Monday.
Global crude steel output at 135 million tonnes in March, was up by 1.1 percent compared with March 2012, data from the World Steel Association (World Steel) showed.
Most of the growth came from China, which produces about half of the global steel supply and is also the largest consumer. The country posted a 6.6 percent output increase to 66.3 million tonnes in March.
"Most of the world is in decline, but the steel industry in China isn't disciplined in the way Europe might be," Wood Mackenzie iron ore and steel consultant Patrick Cleary said.
"So we see persistently high level of overproduction in China, and as a result prices are under pressure and margins are very much under pressure."
More than half of Chinese steelmakers, which are big employers in the country, are state-owned. The Chinese government supports them even when margins are low or they lose money to avoid social unrest, industry sources said.
Elsewhere in Asia, India and Japan posted increases of 6.5 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, while output declined 7 percent in South Korea and 4.6 percent in Taiwan.
"Demand generally is struggling even within Asia, and there is a lot of competition. With the weaker currency Japan has really come back into the export trade and has put aggressive export orders. That has hit countries such as Korea and Taiwan," Cleary said.
Japan's yen has softened significantly against other currencies in the past weeks as a result of a massive monetary easing program in the country.
All other major regions posted an output decline, with the exception of Africa and the Middle East, where production was boosted by a 14.3 percent increase in sanctions-hit Iran.
U.S. production contracted by 8.4 percent to 7.3 million tonnes. The year-on-year decline is partially due to the reduction in capacity after the bankruptcy of RG Steel.
The EU posted a 6.6 percent fall to 14.6 million tonnes in March.
Italy's steel production fell 18.4 percent, due in part to a production halt at the Ilva plant in southern Italy.
Germany and France registered contractions of 2.2 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively.
"We're starting to see an acceleration of production discipline in Europe," steel analyst Kashaan Kamal at Metal Bulletin Research said.
"Conditions in Europe will remain under pressure for the coming months, and we expect southern European steelmakers to increase their presence in export markets to compensate for this, looking for any sign of a pickup from Middle East and North African buyers."
Production in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which includes Russia and Ukraine, declined 4.5 percent to 9.4 million tonnes in March.
This was mainly due to lower demand from import markets in Africa and the Middle East, which are building up capacity of their own. (