China is to impose tariffs on 128 US products, including scrap aluminium, in retaliation for new American tariffs on steel and aluminium imported from China.
The British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) has warned that the situation is already affecting UK prices.
Under China’s new policy, scrap aluminium will be hit with a 25% tariff, as will seven other products, mostly foodstuffs. The remainder face a 15% rate.
The semi-official newspaper China Daily said China’s Ministry of Commerce had urged the US to revoke tariffs which it said violated World Trade Organization rules.
President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminium imports in an attempt to protect US producers has sparked fears of a wider trade war that would drag in the UK.
The BMRA said the continuing lack of clarity over both the tariff issue and China’s separate decision to effectively ban the import of waste metals, “is leading to a state of uncertainty which is affecting scrap metal prices in the UK”.
It cited reports by Reuters that Chinese scrap metal imports were down by more than 38% year-on-year to 440,000 tonnes, with copper hit hardest at 52% down and aluminium by 29%.
BMRA chief executive Robert Fell said: “While the UK is not currently affected by US import tariffs, the climate of uncertainty is beginning to bite in the scrap sector, especially as China is an important export market for non-ferrous metals and electric motors.
“This state of uncertainty has been heightened further by shipping companies becoming ever more reluctant to take any waste materials to China.”
He said the BMRA would “strongly lobby the Government to engage more fully with the situation and take active steps to support the waste sector more widely”.