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Non-ferrous expected to struggle as full impact of pandemic emerges, according to BIR eForum

New standards from China however, could provide boost for copper, brass and aluminum alloys

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The Non-Ferrous Metals commodity session of the BIR Global eForum was held on June 3. During the online forum it was suggested that metal prices will struggle to maintain current levels as the true economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to emerge, and that China's new "recycled material" standards covering brass, copper and cast aluminium alloy imports could significantly benefit scrap trading.

According to BIR Non-Ferrous Metals Division President David Chiao of Uni-All Group Ltd and Shen Dong of Omnisource, LLC., the "recycled material" reclassification is scheduled to enter force in China on July 1 this year but, at the time of the eForum, there had been no official announcement in English about the specifications to be adopted or about how the change would impact CCIC inspections. The former confirmed updates would be provided as soon as available.

"Traders believe this new policy will have positive outcomes for the future of scrap trading worldwide," stated Shen Dong.

Under this fundamental shift in Chinese policy, any materials that continued to be classified as "scrap" could not be imported into China after December 31 2020, Mr Chiao stressed. It was also noted that the seventh batch of import quotas issued on May 18 had included 10,423 tonnes of copper scrap and 1,480 tonnes of aluminium scrap, bringing the respective totals for the year to date to 540,184 tonnes and 478,159 tonnes.

Reporting on India as part of a regionalized review of world markets, Dhawal Shah of Metco Marketing (India) PVT Ltd. said the country was expected to lose a "mind-numbing" 25-40% of GDP in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020/21. At the same time, the pandemic-inspired migration of workers and small business operators to their home towns and villages could bring about a "tectonic shift" within the recycling industry.

During a subsequent panel discussion moderated by Susie Burrage of Recycled Products Ltd. in the UK, Mr Shah lamented that Indian importers had been asked to pay substantial demurrage/detention costs when COVID-related disruption of banking services had prevented them from obtaining the necessary documentation to clear cargoes. He argued that the three shipping lines handling some 65% of import volumes were "in a position of power" and that there was a need, therefore, to devise a framework under which shipping lines were to operate.

In North America, Rick Dobkin of Shapiro Metals reported that flows into scrap yards had been slowed by reduced industry activity and virus-related safety restrictions. Inflows in the USA and Mexico had fallen to anywhere between 35% and 70% of their normal volumes while Canada had seen a drop of around 60%.

Murat Bayram of European Metal Recycling Ltd. confirmed that in Europe, meanwhile, copper and copper alloy scrap had run particularly short during a period in which most countries had implemented lockdowns. Estimates of metal scrap availability in May varied from 80% of normal levels in Sweden to just 50% of the norm in Italy and Spain, thus reflecting the relative severity of lockdown restrictions.

COVID-19 "will have a long-lasting impact beyond the health issues", declared guest speaker Eugen Weinberg, Senior Commodity Analyst at Commerzbank. He said the pandemic had "massively accelerated" the de-globalization trend visible since 2010 and at the same time, he envisaged no early resolution - and perhaps even an intensification - of the US/China trade dispute.

Mr Weinberg believes metal prices currently reflected "expectations of a swift recovery, ...similar to 2010" as well as "huge monetary stimulus by central banks worldwide".  But he warned: "It's not going to last. We have yet to come to terms with how bad the current situation is." By July/August this year, he expects "a big disappoint" as second quarter figures reveal the full extent of the crisis. In conclusion, Weinberg said simply, "Prepare for more insecurity."

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