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US scrap exports blighted by Chinese restrictions

China’s policy on scrap imports continues to hit US exports of both ferrous and non-ferrous grades.

The latest quarterly data from the Census Bureau and the International Trade Commission shows that the value of all scrap exports from the US to China fell in the first quarter of 2019 from US$ 1.235 billion (EUR 1.100 billion) in 2018 to US$ 539 million.

Specifically, US exports of ferrous scrap (excluding stainless steel and alloy steel scrap) were down 16% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the year before.

The slump in trade with China, down 94%, was followed by Turkey (-16%) and Mexico (-34%). These falls more than offset gains in exports to South Korea, Malaysia, Bangladesh, or some European markets. The latest report from the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries shows the most-affected ferrous grades in Q1, compared to last year, were No2 bundles (-97%), shavings, chips etc (-46%) and cut plate and structural (-42%).

The China dispute has also had a profound impact on non-ferrous scrap exports from the US. So far this year, shipments on copper and copper alloy scrap to China are down 81%. The 2019 total is currently less than 23,000 tonnes compared to more than 118,000 tonnes in the first quarter of last year.

ISRI says copper scrap demand from Malaysia, South Korea, India, Japan, Taiwan, Belgium, and Hong Kong improved in the first quarter, US exports were down 4% year-on-year. The most affected grades in percentage terms were mixed coppers, solids and turnings (-41%) and No 1 Copper (ex Bare Bright) (-39%). Nickel scrap exports over the same period were down 7% while aluminium was up 18%.

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