China has announced plans to restrict imports of scrap aluminum, steel and copper starting July 1.
These materials previously were on the "unrestricted" materials list, but will be subject to restrictions and government approval under the new regulations, according to an automated translation of the original news release.
The Ministry of Ecology and Environment indicated that other departments are examining new quality standards for scrap aluminum and copper. They could end up getting classified as regular goods and not solid waste, thus exempting them from the import restrictions.
These restrictions are the latest way China is attempting to clean up its environment and make recycling a more domestically-driven industry. The restrictions follow a year of regulatory additions and tweaks on recyclable material import restrictions and bans. Thus far, the U.S. fiber and plastics sectors have been more hard hit by China's restrictions than metals. But this move advances China's stated goal of banning all scrap imports — including metals — by 2020.
The announced regulations on steel, aluminum and copper are merely restrictions, not bans. Even so, import limits likely will affect scrap metal supply, demand and pricing. Some scrap metal markets already have experienced destabilization this year from tariffs introduced in the ongoing U.S.-China trade war. In September, China's scrap paper imports dropped 23% and its scrap metal imports dropped 44% following the tariffs, reports Recycling Today.
Despite the announcement and international press coverage, this move by the Chinese government is similar to others in that it's unclear if the regulations are completely new or if elements already are in effect. The intended 2020 ban, for example, already had been well-known in the scrap recycling industry when an announcement came from the Chinese government last June. The finer details of the just-announced metals restrictions are also a bit hazy because the government statement includes references to a number of import restrictions already in place.
Fastmarkets predicts the metal regulations will result in an influx of copper scrap into China during the first half of this year, as the country's buyers try to secure material before the restrictions take effect on July 1.
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