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Russia ramps up copper sales to China, Turkey to partly compensate for lost exports to EU

Roughly half of the copper tonnage Russia could no longer export to the EU, which is around 238,600 mt, was sold instead to Turkey and China, with the two countries receiving 111,580 mt more than what they did in 2022, an analysis of data from S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Global Trade Analytics Suite showed.

The EU slashed imports of refined copper from Russia by 79% in 2023, taking in just 62,372 mt. In 2022 and 2021, refined copper supplies from Russia comprised 36% (296,000 mt/year) of EU import volumes; last year, that share shrank to just over 9%.

An extra 292,720 mt of refined copper shipped to the EU from Chile and Peru alone more than offset a 239,000 mt slump in imports from Russia. In 2023, the two South American countries provided 41% of the EU’s imports, up from 24% a year earlier.

There was also even no need for the EU to replace the volume it would have received from Russia in full, as the overall volume of copper the region imported in 2023 declined by 20% to 673,100 mt amid an economic downturn.

Before 2023, supplies to the EU used to represent 40% of Russia’s overall refined copper exports, with the country sending an average 700,000 mt/year over 2018-20. In 2021 though, supplies fell by 41% year on year to an estimated 440,000-460,000 mt due to reduced copper production by Nornickel and a 15% tax on metals exports that the Russian government put in place for the August-December 2021 period.

S&P Global Commodity Insights analyzed copper imports of countries that do not participate in sanctions to understand where Russia could export volumes it no longer supplied to the EU. But many of these countries, including Kazakhstan, South Africa, Indonesia and Serbia, are significant producers and exporters of copper — so would not be importing from Russia.

Belarus is likely to be the market that soaks up more Russian copper. In the first quarter of 2022, it more than doubled imports of Russian refined copper to 42 mt, although that tonnage, even annualized, is negligible for a major exporter like Russia. Further data from Belarus was not available.

Among countries that have been importing from Russia, China is the biggest consumer. In 2023, it bought 370,815 mt of refined copper of Russian origin — which is 14.4%, or 46,580 mt, more than what it procured in 2022.

Turkey was also among the most notable in terms of increased uptake, buying 171,260 mt of Russian refined copper in 2023, up 61% year on year. Russian copper accounted for more than 41% of Turkey’s copper imports in 2023, versus 27% in 2022.

China and Turkey together compensated for just under half of the volume Russia lost in supplies to the EU last year. It is not clear whether Russia managed to find markets to fully offset the loss since it has not disclosed its international trade data since invading Ukraine.
Source: Platts

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