Japan expects the amount of domestic crude steel production for 2006 to reach the third-most in its history, the government reported on Thursday.

The total amount of crude steel production will reach 115.73 million tons, up 2.9 percent from a year earlier. The amount is the third largest after 1973 and 1974, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The ministry obtained the forecast by taking into account the expected amount of demand in crude steel during the third quarter (Oct-Dec period) in 2006 and amount of actual production during the first two quarters.

The previous peak of production was 2004, after which Japanese steel makers scaled down exports of steel plate production competing with Chinese steel makers. However, Japanese firms have been resuming steel production. Steel sales are growing in sectors including automobiles, shipbuilding, machinery, and construction, the report said.

Top five steel makers have invested 2.2 trillion yen ($17 billion) in their facilities in total during the last three years, up 40 percent compared to the previous three year period.