As the Sino-U.S. trade war deepened, China announced a 25 % tariff on imports of copper from the United States. Copper scrap processors and importers in China are busy transshipping or reselling US copper scrap destined for China.
Chinese Ministry of Commerce released a final list of tariffs on $16 billion of U.S. goods on August 8th. US scrap metal, waste paper and plastic shipments to China will be subject to new tariffs from August 23th. The waste was not on the list of drafts released in June.
Calculations from customs data show that in the first quarter of this year, almost 2200 shipments of copper scrap were shipped from the United States to China each month, averaging about 20 tons per shipment.
The new tariffs affect China's related trade, because recyclers scramble to find new buyers to avoid paying new tariffs. China is one of the world's largest consumers of metals and waste.
The head of a metal recycling company in Zhejiang China, said the latest tariff countermeasures had made him nervous and restless. He has several shipments of U.S. scrap copper that will reach Ningbo after the deadline, and another shipment waiting to be shipped on the East and West coasts of the United States.
"We are communicating with suppliers, but there is no solution," he said, saying he is looking for buyers in Japan, South Korea, India and even Europe.
Insiders say importers with stranded goods may have to sell at a discount to attract buyers.
It is the latest Chinese crackdown on the US recycling industry after it imposed high tariffs on imports of scrap aluminum in April as part of a response to a trade dispute. "This is a heavy blow to US waste processors" said a senior person in Chinese metals industry.
David J Joseph, the waste subsidiary of Sims Metal Management(SGM.AX) and NUE.N, is a major exporter of US waste to China and other regions.
The US sold nearly $6bn of commodity scrap to China last year, the second largest scrap copper supplier second only to Hong Kong. In 2017, the United States exported 535,371 tons of scrap copper to China, worth about US$ 1.8 billion. China's customs data show that in 2017, Hong Kong shipped 627,180 tons of scrap copper to mainland.
It has imposed stricter import restrictions on scrap over the past year in order not to become a dumping ground for global waste. Imports of scrap metal fell by a third to 2.86 million tons in the first half of 2018, compared with almost zero imports of scrap plastics this year.
Executives from a large Asian metal scrap collector said there could be resale, trans-shipment and delays in paying 25% of tariffs. "Resale may be the best option, even if the price goes down a bit, because transshipment is always risky," said one insider. It also said that many shipments are already at sea and will be in a difficult position.
A copper strip producer in Zhejiang also said transport through a third country was a solution, but shipments could still be sent back to US after entering China port.
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