Column: A record-breaking year for China’s metals trade – by Andy Home (Reuters U.K. – January 28, 2019)

LONDON (Reuters) – Last year was one of the most interesting in a decade for China’s trade in base metals with multiple records broken both for imports and exports. The irony is that many key themes played out in the statistical darkness after China’s customs department suspended from March its traditional detailed monthly breakdown.

While some copper and aluminium insights could still be gleaned from customs’ continuing preliminary estimates, many other components of China’s metallic interaction with the rest of the world simply “disappeared”.

Partial light has since been restored thanks to the department’s new website and the forensic work of colleagues at Refinitiv. Here are some of the stand-outs in terms of what the markets largely missed at the time.

China imported 715,355 tonnes of refined zinc last year. That was the highest-ever amount and represented the second consecutive year of record imports. The country’s net pull on the global zinc market over the last two years has totalled 1.35 million tonnes.

The only historical comparison for this sort of import appetite was 2009, when imports reached 670,000 tonnes. It’s a distorted echo from the past, however.

For the rest of this article: