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China to actively import alumina after Xinfa refinery shutdown

Hong Kong — China will actively seek to import more alumina in the coming months to cover a shortage after the shutdown of the Xinfa alumina refinery in early May, market sources said Tuesday, with inflows estimated at 60,000-160,000 mt/month.

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In April, China imported 56,786 mt of alumina, double the 27,156 mt of imports in March, General Administration of Customs data showed. China imported an average of 53,985 mt/month of alumina over January to April, according to the GAC data.

Imports may rise above 60,000 mt in May as some aluminum smelters would be directly impacted by the cuts, State Development & Investment Corp. said in its weekly report dated May 24.

An Australian refinery source estimated that 2 million mt/year of output was cut, which would be equivalent to 160,000 mt/month, adding that inquiries for spot Australian alumina increased after the cuts.

Chinese and Australian alumina refineries, aluminum smelters, and trading houses said that while Chinese imports were likely to rise from the April level to cover the cuts, they were unclear about the duration and volume of the increased imports. Those would depend on supply and demand fundamentals as well as the prices in international and local markets and the exchange rates, they said.

China's state-run metals consultancy Beijing Antaike said on May 13 that the Xinfa Jiaokou Feimei refinery was ordered to shut its 2.8 million mt/year alumina capacity, and Shangxi Xiaoyi Huaqing Aluminium its 0.4 million mt/year alumina capacity, both in Shangxi province, northwest China. This follows a possible spill earlier in the month of a toxic byproduct of the alumina refining process, also known as red mud.

The shutdown is expected to last two to four months, industry sources estimated. The May 9 Jiaokou government circular said refineries were asked to close, but did not say how long the shutdown would last.

Antaike said Xinfa Jiaokou continued to honor long term supply contracts by using its stocks. The company may also rely on supplies from Xiaoyi Xinfa or Shandong Xinfa, both belonging to Xinfa group. The company officials could not be reached to confirm the Antaike reports.

Before this incident, the supply was already tight in China on the back of the environmental output cuts. "Chinese local supplies would tighten because there is a possibility that on wider environmental concerns, supplies may be cut elsewhere or ramp up delayed," another source at an Australian refinery said. "Even without the Xinfa incident, we were seeing tighter supplies in China," he added.

BAUXITE IMPORTS SET TO BE STABLE

China will actively seek to import alumina to cover the possible output cuts in Xinfa, while maintaining bauxite imports at high levels as port stocks decline, market sources said Tuesday.

Domestic supplies have been on a decline on the back of environmental concerns, they said. As of May 17, bauxite stocks were down 23% week on week to 26 million mt, according to Shanghai Ganglian E-commerce Holdings data.

-- Joshua Leung, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Mayumi Watanabe, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Kshitiz Goliya, newsdesk@spglobal.com