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Scrap traders come to terms with new Chinese standards

Exporters have been warned that new regulations and standards over scrap imported into China continue to make the situation both challenging and uncertain – but reports suggest that trade is slowly improving.

Such insights, including an observation that traders and Chinese custom officials are ‘feeling each other out’, came during the first BIR Challenge, an online event established by the world recycling organisation to discuss global issues facing its membership. It was chaired by Michael Lion, who said, ‘making money is the biggest challenge.’

Most of the discussion concerned the arrangements now that China has implemented new rules over the quality and types of scrap materials accepted through its ports. Mark Sellier, president of Global Metals Network, felt the practical application of the standards was still being worked out with exporters and officials ‘feeling each other out’. He expected the situation to be in place for the short to medium term. 

‘There are considerable difficulties for exporters working out how customs are dealing with them,’ he said. ‘My view is that Customs are working how best to protect the Chinese environment after the new rules were put out by central government.’

Brian Taylor, senior editor of Recycling Today said the regulations were a shift in policy from a country that shifted policy regularly and he did not envy anyone trying to negotiate them. ‘When we say ”China is doing this or that”, the government may want it but the Chinese industry does not,’ he suggested.

Murat Bayram, a director with EMR in Germany, agreed, saying ‘we knew this would come’ before adding positively, ‘a solution will come: they know they need our scrap and we need their capacities.’

Part of the danger for traders is contravening the new classification standards for scrap and possibly incurring severe fines after customs inspections. Lion suggested these could be in the order of five million renminbi (over EUR 600 000) but Sellier thought only wilful acts would result in penalties of that magnitude. ‘If it is a quality issue with the container being returned to the sender, I don’t believe a fine of that order will be levied.’   

Sellier related anecdotes from those experiencing the new customs regime. He said containers were being inspected visually and if any waste plastic was spotted the whole load was likely to be refused. ‘Customs takes one bag and if any plastic is found it will be rejected – it won’t even be tested. There could be one with plastic and 20 without it, so it might still be within the required standard if measured as a whole, but they don’t go that far – it’s out.’

Inspection prior to shipment did not offer any privileges at the moment, Sellier said, adding that packaged loads had the best chance of making it through customs. He reported delays of up to four weeks resulting from officials’ concern at ‘small red flags’. Such loads were being to sent for testing – thereby increasing costs.

But he added more positively: ‘The situation is better than it was a month ago and it’s getting better every day. Customs are not used to it and they are learning as well.’

Other topics discussed included shipping activity, the ferrous market and the Circular Economy.

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