Chinese buyers can apply for tariff exemptions on US copper, Al scrap imports from March

Chinese importers could be able to buy United States’ copper and aluminium scrap without the current 25% tariffs from July, China's Ministry of Finance Customs Department said in a notice on Tuesday February 18.

Copper and aluminium scrap are among 696 products listed by the ministry that can have tariffs exempted. Importers can apply for exemptions starting from March 2, 2020.

As part of a tit-for-tat trade dispute between the two countries, China added 25% tariffs on US-origin metal scrap imports in 2018, disrupting trade flows from the world’s biggest producer to its largest consumer by volume.

China imported 89,287 tonnes of copper scrap from the US in 2019, down from 275,000 tonnes in 2018 and 688,000 tonnes in 2017

Combined with higher limits on impurities for imports, the tariff meant millions of dollars worth of copper and aluminium scrap was diverted from the US to Hong Kong, Malaysia and Europe for consumption and refining, while high-grade European scrap has increasingly been sent to China.

Consumer needs
“In order to better meet the increasing needs of consumers in China, we will expedite the acceptance of applications for exclusion of enterprises,” the ministry said in the notice.

The exemptions could help relieve a tight market in China, which has supported global aluminium scrap and ingot prices in recent months.

Tariffs on American aluminium scrap to China, as well as the country’s aversion to accepting certain scrap grades due to waste concerns, initially created a scrap oversupply outside of China two years ago.

The policies were one of the reasons that the price of secondary aluminium in Europe plummeted to its lowest in over a decade in May 2019.

The quotas and tariffs in place limited the amount of aluminium scrap China could accept, which also made the regional scrap market tighter.

The effects of that were apparent in the secondary aluminium ingot market in Asia, which uses scrap as a raw material, at the end of 2019.

Fastmarkets assessed the aluminium ingot ADC 12 spot (MJP), cfr Japan price at $1,650-1,700 per tonne on December 11, 2019, moving up from $1,550-1,600 a month earlier on November 13.

The increase in aluminium ingot demand in China also helped boost depressed secondary aluminium prices in Europe.

As a result, Fastmarkets’ assessment of the aluminium pressure diecasting ingot DIN226/A380, delivered Europe price rose to €1,400-1,460 ($1,543.78-1,609.94) per tonne on January 24 where it has remained since, after hitting a decade low of €1,260-1,290 per tonne last October.

Since the announcement of larger scrap quotas in December and the reclassification of scrap in January, however, aluminium ingot prices in Asia have declined on market expectations of increased spot supply.

Fastmarkets most recently assessed the aluminium ingot, ADC 12 spot price, cfr Japan at $1,580-1,610 per tonne on Wednesday February 19 – flat since February 5.