Metal Bulletin’s inaugural Copper Recycling conference took place in Brussels this week at an interesting and, in certain ways, unprecedented time in the copper scrap market.
Over two days, around 120 delegates heard the views of industry executives collectively representing the entire copper supply chain, from scrap dealers to secondary refiners, and fabricators to equipment manufacturers.
Separately, speakers forecast that the copper scrap market will be transformed over the next few years by changing trends in the production, treatment, and consumption of copper, and also by the evolving demands of global regulations governing scrap markets.
Sooner or later, and perhaps sooner than most expect, China’s overwhelming dependence on imported scrap will ease as the country moves further along the road to becoming an advanced industrial nation, as Sims Metal Management Asia’s Michael Lion stressed.
This, in turn, raises long-term questions about where the next scrap recycling hub will be, and developing countries in Africa, South America and elsewhere in Asia may soon attract more attention from scrap traders and processors globally as China’s own domestic generation of scrap increases.
In end-use markets, copper will increasingly be employed in high-tech applications in commercial, industrial, and infrastructural sectors, and the multi-metal, low-grade scrap these industries produce will force traditional secondary producers to invest heavily in more advanced recycling technology, as the likes of Aurubis and Metallo are already doing.
And as those companies look to keep pace with the rapid growth in the generation of e-waste in particular, governments and supranational institutions must also ensure that regulations governing the global and regional scrap markets are fair, relevant, enforceable and unbureaucratic, speakers pleaded.
But beyond the valuable insights and viewpoints proffered in presentations and on the sidelines of the conference, many of the delegates in attendance are likely to remember the conference as the place where they learned that the London Metal Exchange recommended that Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing (HKEX) take over the 135-year-old bourse.
Certain delegates will now have to decide what they want to do with their direct stakes in the exchange, and many more will wonder how a sale might indirectly affect their businesses in the long term.
Those that wish to preserve the status quo will presumably take comfort from HKEX’s pledge to preserve the LME’s membership and date structure, warehousing network and open-outcry trading ring, at least until 2015.
On the sidelines of the conference, brokers, producers and consumers expressed concern over how the LME will evolve beyond that, but in the breakneck world of metals markets, two full years of certainty will nevertheless be welcomed.
Others, meanwhile, will find the promise of greater access to Chinese markets, including the potential establishment of warehouses there, as a tantalising prospect.
There was cause for concern and excitement then, in view of the evolution of the scrap markets and the LME alike, but there was also consensus that in both regards, changes will come.