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2021 sees surge in China’s copper scrap imports

Owing to a combination of accelerated COVID vaccination programmes, industrial recovery and demand for carbon neutralization, copper prices headed sharply higher in the first quarter of 2021. Copper broke through Yuan 70,000 per tonne in Shanghai and, in April, hit a record high of US$ 10,747.50 per tonne in London. In mid-June, China’s State Reserve Bureau began to dump copper and prices duly fell, continuing to fluctuate into the fourth quarter of last year.

Meanwhile, global copper mining has entered a recovery phase. For January to October 2021, Chile’s copper production decreased by 2.2% year on year to 4.64 million tonnes and was expected to total 5.62 million tonnes for the whole year whereas Peru’s copper mine output jumped 10% to 1.89 million tonnes and was on course to reach 2.32 million tonnes for all of 2021. In Africa, Zambia’s copper mine output was expected to decrease to 0.82 million tonnes in 2021 while the total for Congo was anticipated to reach 1.67 million tonnes,

As for China, it is believed that copper mine output climbed 7% to 1.79 million tonnes in 2021 and a further increase of approaching 7% to 1.91 million tonnes is projected for this year.
Focusing on scrap and recycled copper, Chinese imports grew significantly last year; for the January-October period, imported volumes are thought to have increased by 0.52 million tonnes, or 86%. Since November 2019, scrap and recycled copper has been subject to a zero import tariff, with no pre-shipment inspection or import approval required and no limitations on the port of arrival.

With regard to global scrap copper trading patterns, Asia is the key importing region whereas Europe and the USA are the dominant exporters. China accounts for the largest proportion of Asia’s imports, with South East Asia acting as China’s transit station. In 2019, Europe and the USA exported around 1.43 million tonnes of scrap copper. In November last year, the European Commission issued a proposed revision of the EU waste shipment regulation that, in effect, would restrict exports.

For China in 2022, it is estimated that 2.55 million tonnes of copper scrap will be recovered and that, with imports, domestic supply will be 3.75 million tonnes.