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US tariff hike could have knock-on effect on metals demand: Japan traders

Tokyo — Metals used in the manufacturing of household goods and batteries could come under further pressure following US President Donald Trump's lifting of import tariffs to 25% from 10% on some $200 billion of Chinese imports last Friday.

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To date, London Metal Exchange prices have seen little impact from the increase and the fact that the two countries continue to negotiate has provided the market with some comfort.

"US-China talks have not broken down, so there's been no immediate impact, but the higher tariff targets Chinese household articles that use metals, so this will decrease demand," a Japanese trader said.

China has a significant share of US imports of nickel cadmium and manganese dioxide batteries that are used in personal computers and other electronic goods.

The US imported 239,561 units of nickel cadmium batteries from China in 2018, accounting for 89% of total imports of 269,055 units. Imports from China were worth $27 million, according to the US Census Bureau.

Manganese dioxide battery imports from China stood at 2.1 billion units, or 62% of total US imports of 3.4 billion units in 2018. Imports from China were worth $264 million.

Consultancy Wood Mackenzie said the tariff increase would hurt the lead batteries sector and "add impetus to the existing drive for China to offshore battery production for export markets to joint venture companies set up in nearby countries with lower production costs."

A second Japanese trader said the tariff hike would also affect non-Chinese battery manufacturers as they would need to reorganize their global supply chain.

In 2018, the US imported 2 million units of lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles worth $45 million from China, out of total US imports of 11 million units for $421 million.

Lithium ion battery imports from China are currently not subject to US tariffs.

Lithium metal batteries for electric vehicles were included in the first list of tariffs in April 2018 but were later removed.

The US levies tariffs on Chinese lithium ion battery raw materials -- lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide, cobalt sulfate, cobalt hydroxide and nickel sulfate -- and China currently levies a 25% tariff on cobalt sulfate imports from the US.

"But the impact is not zero. The uncertain future will weigh on the market as every market participant is worried about the impact on Chinese businesses operating in the US and the ripple effects on the macro economy," the second Japanese trader said.

Last year, the US levied a 10% tariff on around 7,500 types of imports from China, including kitchenware, household articles, hand tools and batteries, among other items, under Section 301 of the US Trade Act.

-- Mayumi Watanabe,

-- Edited by Geetha Narayanasamy,