“I don’t believe everyone can do it — only the big groups can meet the standards,” said one major scrap supplier in Europe.
This view is echoed by several US scrap dealers, both large and small, as the cost of exports to China is expected to rise because of the increased level of processing required to meet the stricter standards.
China has approved the recategorization of high-grade copper and brass scrap as raw material, with no import restrictions. The new standards will be implemented on 1 July.
The new scrap standards for copper (GB/T 38471-2019) and brass (GB/T 38470-2019) were announced and published by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) on 31 December.
Scrap metal must contain 97–99.9pc copper to meet the new standards, with recovery rates for some grades set as high as 99pc. For brass scrap, copper content must be 56-75pc, while the permitted lead level is heavily restricted (see table).
Copper scrap imported into China must not contain unexploded bombs, shells, and other explosives. Sealed, pressurized containers and materials classified as dangerous are also banned from imports.
All scrap metal imports will be sampled and tested batch by batch — at least 10kg per batch will be checked for metal content, recovery rate, and impurities.
Many scrap firms are discussing internally how to find ways to comply with the standards, in order to continue exporting to the world’s biggest scrap consumer.
“The last change they did, they made it work,” a second supplier said. “They clearly have thought about it. Reluctantly with this situation, you can’t ignore China being the market. On the other hand, if you do qualify there is money to be made.”
Many expressed apprehension and said the new model would be a trial-and-error process for buyers and sellers. Suppliers are also waiting for their Chinese customers to return from the lunar new year holiday for further discussions.
“It’s not as difficult as I thought,” said a third supplier in Europe. “It’s not easy, but it’s manageable. We have to test it out.”
“We can do it, it’s just investigating the most cost-effective way to do it,” agreed the second supplier.
The size of non-metallic impurities such as dust in scrap imports, which is restricted at less than 2mm, will be one of the most difficult criteria to comply with.
“That’s going to be the biggest challenge, especially in warmer climates,” said the second supplier.
The licensed quota system will remain in place, and suppliers are waiting for China to return from the lunar new year holiday to get more clarity on the export procedure. The holiday is due to end on 2 February after being extended by three days to help contain the coronavirus outbreak.
The Chinese scrap import quota approved for the first quarter is 582,740t, of which copper accounts for 296,421t, aluminum 283,041t, and ferrous material 2,280t.