China copper imports rise in May to highest since Dec 2016

BEIJING, June 8 (Reuters) — China's copper imports rose to their highest in 17 months in May as the country's crackdown on scrap leaves it buying more of the metal in other forms.

China, the world's biggest copper consumer, imported 475,000 tonnes of unwrought copper and copper products last month, according to customs data released on Friday.

It was the the highest May figure for at least a decade, up 22 percent from the same month last year and up 8 percent from 440,000 tonnes in April.

The numbers suggest buyers are facing a shortfall in scrap copper, said an analyst at Antaike, the research arm of the China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association. The numbers suggest buyers are facing a shortfall in scrap copper

China from March 1 banned imports of scrap material that do not meet tight impurity thresholds and has said it will not allow any Category 7 copper scrap, such as coiled copper cable and waste motors, to enter from 2019, as part of a crackdown on "foreign garbage".

"Demand is not bad … it's also making up for scrap copper," said the Antaike analyst, who declined to be named, of the May import numbers.

Scrap copper imports fell 36.7 percent in April from a year earlier, official data showed last month. Figures for May are not yet available.

Copper prices were trading down 1.5 percent in London at $7,223 at 0630 GMT on Friday, having hit $7,348 a tonne, their highest level since January 2014, in the previous session amid fears of supply disruption at BHP's Escondida copper mine in Chile, the world's largest.

China's imports of copper concentrates and ores, which are processed into metal, came in at 1.58 million tonnes in May, the General Administration of Customs said.

That was up 1.9 percent from April and up 37.4 percent from a year earlier.

Total copper concentrate imports for January-May were 7.8 million tonnes, the highest for the period since at least 2000.

(Reporting by Tom Daly; additional reporting by Gavin Maguire in SINGAPORE; editing by Richard Pullin)