China 2021 copper imports slip after previous year’s record high

(Image courtesy of Codelco | Flickr.)

China’s imports of unwrought copper and copper products slipped in 2021 from the previous year’s record, though annual imports of copper concentrate hit a historic high.

Imports of unwrought copper and copper products for the year totalled 5.53 million tonnes, General Administration of Customs data showed on Friday, down 17.2% from 2020’s record volume of 6.68 million tonnes.

On a monthly basis, China’s copper imports rose for a fourth straight month in December to 589,165 tonnes, up from November’s 510,402 tonnes and its highest monthly level since October 2020 as a favourable price arbitrage window made bringing in overseas metal more attractive, said an analyst.

China's monthly and annual unwrought copper imports new

“In December, it was more favourable to import into China,” said CRU Chinese copper analyst He Tianyu.

“However, on an annual basis, copper imports into China fell from 2020 as demand from overseas markets like Europe and the U.S. was good, so there were more copper inflows there versus China.”

Imports of copper from China, the world’s top consumer of the metal, were also dampened this year by high prices and as a government campaign to reduce carbon emissions weighed on factory activity.

China’s factory activity, however, unexpectedly accelerated in December, but only by a slim margin.

Customs data also showed that imports of copper concentrate, or partially processed ore, hit a record 23.4 million tonnes in 2021, up 7.6% from the 21.78 million tonnes imported in 2020.

Concentrate imports were at 2.06 million tonnes in December, down from a record 2.19 million tonnes in November.

China's monthly and annual copper concentrates imports

Exports of unwrought aluminium and aluminium products hit 562,975 tonnes in last month, customs said, up from 509,319 tonnes in November.

They were also the highest monthly levels according to Reuters records.

Full-year shipments of aluminium stood at 5.62 million tonnes, up 15.7% from 4.86 million tonnes exported in 2020.

China monthly and annual unwrought aluminium exports

(By Emily Chow; Editing by Kim Coghill and Shri Navaratnam)

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