China's imports of Australian copper focus are falling amid tensions


Conveyor belts transport copper ore to the processing facility of the Rio Tinto Group's Northparkes underground block cave mine in Parkes, New South Wales, Australia.

Carla Gottgens | Bloomberg | Getty Images

China's imports of copper concentrate from Australia fell for a second month in November to their lowest level since at least 2016, customs data showed on Saturday when a bilateral trade dispute weighed on China's demand for Australian raw material supply.

The arrival of copper concentrate or partially processed copper ore from Australia to China, the world's largest copper consumer, amounted to 26,717 tons last month, according to the General Customs Administration.

That was a 34% decrease from October and a 77.8% decrease from the previous year, which is the lowest monthly total on record since January 2017.

In early November, Australian media reports reported that the Chinese government had ordered companies not to buy copper ore and concentrate – as well as at least six other commodities, from coal to lobster – from Australia as of November 6, as relations between the two countries were poor.

The November customs data was due to be released on Friday, but the agency's website was not available at the time.

Copper concentrate, used by smelters to make refined copper, is one of several Australian raw materials that are subject to import restrictions in China due to the strained relationship between the two countries.

Relations turned sour in 2018 when Australia became the first country to publicly ban China's Huawei Technologies Co from its 5G network, and deteriorated that year when Australia requested an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

Deliveries of Australian copper concentrate were down more than 50% in October compared to the previous month, despite the fact that it was before the reported restrictions came into effect.

Last month, China's copper concentrate imports from all countries were 1.83 million tons, an 8.3% increase from October but a 15% decrease from last year.

Australia accounted for 4.8% of China's total copper concentrate imports in 2019, making it the fifth largest supplier after Chile, Peru, Mongolia and Mexico.


Steven Gregory