UPDATE: China offers further clarification of restricted import materials
UPDATE: Chinese officials are beginning to outline details of how the country is going to implement its pending scrap import ban, which focuses mostly on textiles and mixed paper. On Thursday, China noted that imports of scrap metals like steel, copper, nickel, tin, aluminum and zinc are not on the restricted import list, according to Reuters.
However, the Ministry of Environmental Protection listed steel, copper and aluminum scrap from automobiles, ships and electronic devices under a "limited import" category — but did not include a definition of what "limited" means.
Adina Adler, senior director of international relations for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), said that the movement of some material to the limited import category — which she said was akin to China's catalog of items that require a license for importation — could be a signal of things to come. "It does tell us that it could potentially be a target for prohibition," she said in an interview with Waste Dive. She added that that prohibition could be announced in 2018.
- Adina Adler, senior director of international relations for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), said during a July 24 phone call with members that ISRI is expecting announcements from China on more import restrictions — though they're not sure on when those announcements would come.
- Adler said mixed metals, including electrical wire and motors, could face import bans as soon as Jan. 1, 2019. A ban on higher-value products, including iron, steel, aluminum and paper, could be implemented within two to five years. In a later phone call with Waste Dive, Adler added that, with the timing of import bans, "everything is uncertain."
- ISRI assured members that the group is working with different levels of the United States government, the Chinese government and the European Commission to mitigate China's import ban. The United States Department of Commerce did not respond to a Waste Dive email requesting comment.
While Adler made clear that ISRI's predictions were based on rumor and conjecture, not official statements or plans, these predicted import bans are consistent with what the organization said earlier in the year — a plastics ban is already proposed, mixed metals and higher value material could be coming later. Adler told listeners on the call that rumored "higher value metal scrap and higher value paper scrap" import bans might come with a longer transition, so Chinese manufacturers would have more time to adapt to the new trade restrictions. This is in stark contrast with the announced plastics ban, which comes with little time before implementation.
It helps to understand why China is pursuing these policies — especially since the country has, for so long, appeared to rely on scrap imports. During the call, Adler made clear that ISRI's position is that China's import bans are not political retaliation for actions taken by the Trump administration, like calling cheap aluminum from China a national security threat. China's filing with the WTO cited environmental concerns and Adler said she saw the timing as "coincidental" and a focus on China's environmental protection and crackdown on corruption.
It is, at this time, not clear what happens next. Adler said that the six-month warning on this plastics import ban may be "too little, too late," but seemed optimistic that future restrictions from China may come with more international deliberation. ISRI wants to get the issue of scrap import restrictions on the official U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue agenda in the future. Adler also said ISRI wants to work with the Chinese government, "so they understand the implications of these announcements" and may even work to modify policy so that there will be "minimal impact" on the industry in the United States.
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