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Traders await restart of Australia copper sales to China

Kitco News

By Melanie Burton and Siyi Liu

MELBOURNE/BEIJING, May 24 (Reuters) - Positive signs from Canberra on a resumption of copper exports to China are welcome to producers and buyers eager for a return of trade after a diplomatic freeze, but no shipments have been cleared by Chinese customs yet, according to traders and China trade data. China is gradually easing a raft of unofficial curbs and tariffs on Australian products, including coal and barley, imposed in 2020 as tensions flared over trade, security and the origins of COVID-19. Following a trip to Beijing earlier this month, Trade Minister Don Farrell told Australia's Channel 9 that Australian copper was "back into Chinese markets".

Reuters reported copper departed Australia for China in January, according to Australian trade data. But the exports have not been reported in China's trade statistics. Chinese data released last weekend also did not show any copper shipments from Australia in April. According to that same data, the world's top commodities consumer has not received any major copper shipments from Australia since June 2019, when imports were 11,404 tonnes.

"There's never any official written notice to ban Australian imports, so there won't be any official notice on trade resumption," said a source at a smelter in China. Five commodity traders said they were not aware of any Australian-origin copper shipments that had cleared customs in China. "Chinese smelters are staring at us blankly - we know nothing," one trader at an international commodity trading house said.

Farrell said on Monday there had been positive developments for copper since the start of this year, citing Australian trade data and industry participants. "The trade impediments were not created overnight and will not be resolved overnight. Any step towards the resolving the trade impediments is welcome," he said in a statement to Reuters, when asked about copper shipments. It was not clear why the export had not shown up in China's customs data. Shipments that arrive in China and are discharged into bonded warehouses while awaiting clearance would not appear in import data. China's customs headquarters did not respond to a faxed request for comment or answer phone calls from Reuters.

Australia's latest trade data shows no copper exports to China for February and March. The data for March showed that since December 2020, Australia has only reported small shipments of copper to China in September 2022 and January 2023. "There is an expectation that shipments from Australia might resume in June," a second trader said.

China imported just over one million tonnes of copper ore and concentrate from Australia in 2019, according to customs data, worth about $1.67 billion at the time.

Copper trade was a small fraction of Australia's iron ore exports to China. (Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne and Siyi Liu in Beijing; Additional reporting by Lewis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Tony Munroe and Sonali Paul)

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