US copper concentrate heads to China again after tariff relief

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China is importing at least two cargoes of copper concentrate from the United States after Beijing allowed Chinese companies to seek trade-war tariff waivers on the material, according to two smelter sources.

The United States was China’s eighth-biggest copper concentrate supplier in 2017, sending almost 433,000 tonnes, but trade virtually dried up after Beijing imposed a 10% tariff on U.S. shipments from September 2018 and later raised it to 25%.

Chinese firms have been allowed to apply for exemption on the duty since March 2 amid a trade war detente.

A shipment of around 10,000 tonnes for China Copper, part of state-run Chinalco, is due to arrive in mid-June, a company source said, adding it was bought from a trader and would come from either the Robinson mine in Nevada, operated by Poland’s KGHM, or Asarco’s Mission mine in Arizona.

A source at Daye Nonferrous, in the coronavirus epicentre of Hubei, said his firm also bought a 10,000 tonne U.S. cargo from a trader but was unsure of the arrival date.

The shipments come amid escalating China-U.S. tensions over the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the United States and seen President Donald Trump threaten new tariffs on China.

Smelters are also worried about supply amid mine closures.

“It is clean but the content of copper is lower” than concentrate from top suppliers Chile and Peru, one of the sources said of the material, adding that his firm was buying from the United States both because the concentrate was suitable and as a gesture toward bilateral relations.

A KGHM spokeswoman did not comment directly when asked if the company’s U.S. concentrate was going to China again but said April sales from Robinson were up by around 10,000 tonnes, or one shipment, year-on-year.

“We and our clients welcome and take advantage of any improvement in trading conditions,” she added.

Asarco, China Copper and Daye did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(By Tom Daly, Agnieszka Barteczko and Ernest Scheyder; Editing by David Evans)

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