The deals only represent trial transactions at this stage, sources said, with suppliers still getting acclimatized to China’s inspection systems following the first imported cargo passing customs on January 29.

But buyers in China have had to raise prices to secure such cargoes in recent days following a rise in export prices from markets such as Japan and Taiwan.

Japan-origin HS in bulk was sold to China earlier this week at ¥45,000 ($430) per tonne fob, up from ¥42,000 per tonne fob a week earlier. Offers for HS were heard at ¥46,000 per tonne fob Japan on Wednesday.

Containers of Singapore-origin plate and structural (P&S) scrap - which is the internationally-recognized equivalent of ‘HS’ material - were sold in small quantities at $465 per tonne cfr China, while containerized HS from South Korea was $465-470 per tonne cfr China.

Deals for bulk cargoes of South Korea-origin HS were heard at $465 per tonne cfr China this week, with two vessels of 3,000 tonnes booked, Fastmarkets understands. A further deal at $460 per tonne cfr China for 3,000 tonnes of South Korean HS could not be confirmed by the time of publication.

Fastmarkets’ newly-launched daily price assessment for steel scrap, heavy recycled steel materials, cfr China was $460-465 per tonne on Wednesday, up $5-10 per tonne from $450-460 per tonne cfr day on day.

A bid for Japanese HS was heard at around $445 per tonne cfr China on Wednesday, but some buyers were willing to pay up to $460-465 per tonne cfr for the material, sources said.

“The offer level from Japan is $470 per tonne cfr China for HS,” a Japanese trader said on Tuesday. “Japanese suppliers want to [raise] prices, so the bid price from China will rise to this level in the near future, I think,” he added.

The introduction of import-dependent South Korea into the Chinese scrap market is significant and follows a steady rise in scrap exports from the country last year.

South Korea exported 253,326 tonnes of steel scrap in 2020, which was a year-on-year rise of 12.3%, while the country’s imports fell 48% year on year to 4.39 million tonnes, according to South Korean customs statistics.

“The [South] Koreans are being quite aggressive and we notice that their domestic generation of steel scrap is gradually increasing,” a Japanese supplier source said.

Market participants in the country's scrap import market told Fastmarkets earlier this year that South Korea has ample supplies of lower-grade steel scrap amid a drop in steelmaking capacity utilization rates, adding that the country no longer needs to rely on Japan or the United States to supply these grades.