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China's 2020 copper imports hit record high

  • On a full-year basis, concentrate imports missed a new record, with shipments totalling 21.77 million tonnes amid tight mine supply due to coronavirus-related curbs even as China's copper smelting capacity continued to expand.
14 Jan 2021

China imported record volumes of unwrought copper and copper products on an annual basis in 2020, while its annual exports of aluminium fell to the lowest since 2017.

Imports of unwrought copper and copper products for the year came in at 6.68 million tonnes, customs data showed on Thursday, up a third from 2019 and extending the annual record notched well before the end of the year, on the back of a quick recovery from the coronavirus epidemic.

December imports, however, slumped for a third consecutive month to 512,332 tonnes, as construction and manufacturing demand was not enough to offset the closure of an arbitrage window that made 2020 a record year for shipments into China, the world's top consumer of the metal.

That was down 8.7% from 561,310.7 tonnes in November and its lowest monthly level since May.

"December imports were within expectations, I think it will continue decreasing in January from a high base," said He Tianyu, China copper demand analyst at CRU Group.

He said the record 2020 imports were due to state reserve stockpiling as well as China's quick recovery from the coronavirus epidemic that opened up an arbitrage between London and Shanghai copper prices.

"COVID-19 also transferred some overseas orders of home appliances and medical products to China, which pushed up the China imports."

The arbitrage between Shanghai and London copper prices that made imports so favourable in mid-2020 remained closed, reducing the incentive to ship metal.

China's General Administration of Customs also said that imports of copper concentrate, or partially processed ore, were 1.89 million tonnes last month, up 3% from 1.831 million tonnes in November, but down from 1.928 million tonnes a year earlier.

On a full-year basis, concentrate imports missed a new record, with shipments totalling 21.77 million tonnes amid tight mine supply due to coronavirus-related curbs even as China's copper smelting capacity continued to expand.

Meanwhile, exports of unwrought aluminium and aluminium products were 456,130 tonnes in December, customs said, its highest monthly levels since March. That was also up 7.6% from 424,025.3 tonnes in November, but down 4.6% year-on-year.

Full-year shipments were down from 2019 at 4.86 million tonnes, their lowest annual total since 2017 after the economic impact of the virus around the world hit demand for Chinese metal.