China may be on the road to COVID-19 recovery but its giant industrial metals industry faces the new challenge of maintaining global supply chains of raw materials.
Key supplier countries such as Peru, Chile, and the Philippines have been going through their own quarantines and restrictions in the fight against the coronavirus.
China’s first-quarter trade figures capture these accumulating supply tensions, with import volumes of ores and concentrates dropping and flows of scrap, an important part of the raw materials mix, drying up.
In the case of copper and tin, the impact has started to translate into a greater call for refined metal imports despite the precipitous drop in domestic demand seen over the first three months of this year.
In the case of nickel, the pressure is being partly offset by an ongoing shift in the type of raw material now heading to Chinese processors.
The initial COVID-19 metals demand shock appears to have passed in China. There may well be a second-phase impact to come but right now it is the shock to global mine production that looms large in China’s metals trade figures.