China’s copper imports hit record highs in 2020

File image of a cargo of copper cathodes aboard a train leaving the Chuquicamata mine, Chile.

© Reuters / Ivan Alvarado
File image of a cargo of copper cathodes aboard a train leaving the Chuquicamata mine, Chile.

By Emily Chow and Tom Daly

Jan 14 (Reuters) – Raw, concentrated and refined copper import volumes hit record levels on an annualized basis in 2020, while year-round aluminum exports fell to their lowest level since 2017.

Imports of raw copper and copper products for the year reached 6.68 million tonnes, according to customs office data released on Thursday, an increase of almost a third from 2019.

China, the world’s largest consumer of metals, has recovered quickly from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

But copper imports in December fell for the third consecutive month to 512,332 tonnes, as the demand for construction and manufacturing was not enough to offset the end of an arbitration period that allowed a record for the year in 2020 of shipments to China.

The December figures marked a drop of 8.7% compared to the 561,310.7 tons in November and constitute the lowest monthly level since May.

“December imports were within expectations, I think the decline will continue in January due to the high comparison base,” said He Tianyu, Chinese analyst on copper demand at CRU Group.

He added that the 2020 import record was due to the stockpiling of state reserves and China’s rapid recovery from the coronavirus epidemic, which opened an arbitrage between Shanghai and London copper prices.

The arbitrage between Shanghai and London copper prices that made imports so favorable in mid-2020 remains closed, reducing the attractiveness for shipments of the metal.

Meanwhile, exporters of raw and refined aluminum stood at 456,130 tonnes in December, the Customs office said, their highest level since March. The figure also represents an increase of 7.6% compared to 424,025.3 tons in November, but a decrease of 4.6% in the year-on-year comparison.

Annual Chinese Copper Imports

Chinese Mendual Copper Imports (in English)

Chinese Copper Exports 2013-2020 (in English)


(Reporting by Emily Chow and Tom Daly. Edited in Spanish by Marion Giraldo)

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