INTL COPPER CONF: Europe copper industry wary of growing Chinese dominance

Growing Chinese copper output and an imbalance in trade terms between China and the west have led to a rising need for the European copper industry to guard its interests, panelists at Fastmarkets’ International Copper Conference in Amsterdam said on Thursday February 27.

“It’s difficult to say [European copper market participants] don’t have to worry,” chief metal officer Marco Calamia from one of the biggest Europe-based copper strip producer KME Group said. “The Chinese won’t care about the dominant Chinese position, they like it, it’s Europe who has to react.”
After the ‘HUMON-D’ brand was listed under the London Metal Exchange’s Grade-A Copper Contract two days ago, there are now 20 Chinese brands of copper cathode eligible for delivery against LME contracts - the most of all countries.
China has now surpassed the 19 LME-registered brands of copper cathode produced in Chile - the world’s top copper producing country - and 16 European brands on the list, as of February 27.
“For the foreseeable future there will be more [LME] brands [of copper Grade-A cathode] coming from China. This part of the world already comprises almost 50% of the world’s copper production,” Christian Schirmeister from Amalgamated Metal Trading said at Fastmarkets’ conference.
China’s production of copper cathode rose to 8.95 million tonnes in 2019, up 2.4% from the year before - making it the biggest refined copper maker in the world, National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) data shows.
Following some Chinese smelter expansions in 2019, Chinese market participants have become active importers of copper raw materials, including concentrates and scrap, to feed these new smelters, Fastmarkets understands.
“The Chinese could come to Europe to buy copper scrap freely, but if [European market participants] want to buy material from China then there are internal quotations comprising domestic prices and tax. So, we’re not in the same position,” Oriol Guixa, chief executive of La Farga, one of the major copper scrap buyers in Europe, said.
Protectionism has been a key topic in the copper scrap market in the past two years, with the Chinese government imposing a 25% tariff on US-origin copper scrap, which accounts for the majority of Chinese supply.
As a result, more high-purity European copper scrap was flowing into China to make up the loss of United States’ ferrous scrap imports and to avoid the 25% tariffs.
“Competition is healthy. The key point is not to call it a ‘danger’, but how [European copper market participants] can keep ourselves ahead of the race. It’s important to signal this to European authorities,” European Copper Institute chief executive Bernard Respaut said.

Julian Luk

julian.luk@fastmarkets.com

Published

Julian Luk

February 27, 2020

15:30 GMT

Amsterdam