The first round of licenses was granted in late December 2017, with the second round granted this week - all for imports delivered in 2018.

According to official files obtained by Metal Bulletin, copper scrap (HS code 7404.0000.10) import volumes granted in the first two rounds total 136,685 tonnes, down 94.3% from 2,397,565 tonnes approved in the first two rounds of 2017, mainly due to fewer companies securing a license so far.

For those ones that have received a license (see table below), granted volumes have been cut by 81% from last year’s levels.

Almost all of the companies that received copper scrap import licenses so far this year are based in Zhejiang province. Zhejiang is the second most popular destination in China for imported copper scrap, accounting for close to 40% of China’s total scrap copper import shipments. The only company from outside Zhejiang province is Jiangxi GEM Recycling based in Jiangxi province, another traditional copper scrap consumer due to the concentration of smelters and secondary producers.

Guangdong province, which is the largest importer of scrap copper and accounts for nearly half of all shipments, did not receive any import licenses in these two rounds.

Tightening regulation
China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) issued new regulations in mid-December 2017 that only end-users in the business of processing solid waste will be allowed to apply for import licenses for scrap listed as “restricted imports”.

Two large-scale Guangdong-based copper scrap market participants told Metal Bulletin they have not applied for import licenses so far due to the regulation changes for 2018.

“We used to apply for the new year quota based on the previous year’s trading volumes and processing capacities, but now it’s hard to set a target tonnage that should be applied,” one scrap source said.

“It’s hard to predict how strictly the regulators will carry out these new rules, so we prefer to wait a bit longer,” the source added.

Another scrap source said the quota for category 7 shipments for 2018 will be reduced by at least 50%, while volumes under category 6 are still pending.

The MEP has set the threshold for impurities allowed in non-ferrous scrap imports including copper scrap at 1%.

In mid-August last year, the MEP adjusted its import categories for scrap and waste products, with eligibility requirements for category 7 copper and aluminium scrap materials tightened.

In late September, China began enforcing restrictions on copper imports, cutting quotas and limiting the number of licenses in some regions.

China imported 271,045 tonnes of copper scrap in November, down 17.3% on a yearly basis. Total imports in the first 11 months this year were 3,293,953 tonnes, up 9% year on year.

Metal Bulletin assessed No.2 Copper (Birch/Cliff) imported into China 94-96% cif China at a discount to LME or Comex of 32-33 cents per Ib on Monday December 25, flat month on month. 

Scrap aluminium tonnage also shrinks
Meanwhile, aluminium scrap (HS code 7602.0000.10) volumes approved by the authorities in the first round total 1,092 tonnes for 2018, compared with 655,895 tonnes approved at the beginning of 2017. All licenses were granted to companies in Zhejiang province.

No addition aluminium scrap companies obtained licenses in the second round of license issuance.

This article was first published at 10.16am London time on Thursday January 4, 2018.