Officers and staff members of the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) say they have conducted several meetings on both sides of the Pacific Ocean to try to investigate reports and rumors about China’s future policies toward imported recyclables.
In a conference call with invited media members Tuesday, June 14, 2017, ISRI President Robin Wiener and several other staff members offered a recap of meetings held in the past 30 days in Hong Kong, Beijing and Washington with recyclers, consumers and government agencies.
Wiener pointed to the importance of the scrap trade between the United States and China, referring to it as generating $5.6 billion annually and being a form of economic activity that affects “tens of thousands of jobs.” Added Wiener, “In any given year, approximately one-third of scrap materials from the United States goes to export,” with China as the leading destination by a wide margin.
She also commented that beyond the National Sword campaign, which has been targeting material quality and smuggling and has focused largely on plastic scrap, new concerns center on an April 18, 2017, report in China’s media that the central government had approved making additions to an existing list of scrap or discarded materials that cannot enter the country.
Rumors attached to that report have touched upon mixed metals, wire and cable and other materials that have traditionally been imported in large volumes. Wiener said such rumors have gained widespread attention, but thus far no specific commodities have been officially identified for banning.
Wiener said delegations that often include her as well as ISRI Senior Director of International Relations Adina Renee Adler and Director of Commodities Joe Pickard have met with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the Chinese Embassy in Washington and with China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).
Regarding the meeting with AQSIQ, Adler said the ISRI delegation learned the agency is revising its Regulation No. 119, “which tells our members what their obligations are to export commodities to China.” She said the agency was not able to offer clarity on the nature of those changes to Regulation No. 119.
Wiener said the National Sword campaign, which started in early 2017, and the potentially phased-in import ban appear to be motivated by different factors. While the National Sword campaign is concerned with quality and smuggling, she said the import ban “appears to be more of a market issue rather than anything else.” She said that issue pertains to China’s government trying to boost its own domestic scrap collection infrastructure.
When asked whether that amounted to a form of protectionism, Adler said, “I would not use the 'p’ word,” but she added that “maybe there is a driver there” in the form of China trying to support its domestic recycling collection efforts.