China could lose 10% of its lead supply

China will halt iron, iron ore and seafood imports from North Korea starting Tuesday as it implements the new UN sanctions, the Chinese commerce ministry said Monday. According to Metal Bulletin Daily for Aug 15, 2017, China could lose up to a tenth of its lead concentrates supply from looming North Korea Ban within a ban.

Lead and lead ore exports are worth approximately $110 million per year to North Korea, according to UN estimates.  At, 51,000 tonnes, it accounted for a tenth of China’s lead concentrate imports over January to May.  In mined lead production, North Korea ranks eleventh globally and fifth in Asia in 2016, according to the World Bureau of Metal Statistics (WBMS).

This coincides with of the tightest international lead concentrate markets in years. Global lead market was in a shortage of 9,600 tonnes in the first months of 2017, according to the WBMS. The market reported a shortage of 172,000 tonnes in the whole year of 2016. As of late April 2017, global lead inventory expanded 2,000 tonnes, compared the level seen in late 2016. Global refined lead output was 3.95 million tonnes in the first four months of 2017, up 13.3% for the year.

The International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG) said in its July report that the metal was in a 91,000-tonne deficit for the first five months of the year, and treatment charges (TCs) for lead concentrate remain low.   This has been reflected in fund appetite for the metal: lead net longs from LME traders are the most bullish since the exchange started publishing data on it.

Although China is the biggest producer of mined lead, it lags behind the rest of the world in terms of secondary lead output. While the US produces 70% of its lead from recycled batteries, the European rate is below 60% and that of China is around 50%, according to the International Lead Association.

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