BEIJING, RAW – China’s imports of copper concentrate from Australia dried up completely in December, customs data shows, as smelters shun Australian suppliers amid rising tensions between the two nations.

It marks the first time in more than 16 years that monthly imports have been at zero.

Imports of copper ores and concentrates from Australia were zero tonnes last month, according to General Administration of Customs data on Wednesday.

That compares to 26,717 tonnes imported in November and 110,930 tonnes in December 2019.

The last time China had no imports of copper concentrate from Australia was in April 2004, according to records kept by the International Copper Study Group (ICSG).

In 2020, Australia was China’s sixth-largest copper concentrate supplier at 783,476 tonnes, down 25 per cent from 2019 and the lowest yearly total since 2016, the data showed. Australia was the fifth-largest supplier in 2019.

Australian media reports in November said China’s government had instructed companies not to purchase copper concentrate and at least six other commodities from Australia because of souring relations between the two countries.

Australia angered Beijing when it became the first nation to publicly ban China’s Huawei Technologies Co from its 5G communications network in 2018.

Ties worsened last year when Canberra called for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, which was first reported in China’s Wuhan area.

The unofficial ban has left sellers of Australian copper concentrate having to find other homes for their exports in markets such as Japan, South Korea and Europe, with smelters, which use the material to make refined copper, hungry for extra feedstock in a tight market.

China’s copper concentrate imports from all countries were 1.89 million tonnes in December and 21.77 million tonnes in 2020 overall, data released on January 14 showed.

Chile remained China’s top supplier last year at 7.72 million tonnes, followed by Peru, Mexico and Mongolia.