What Are Metal Tariffs & How Do They Affect Scrap?

[UPDATED 1/22/2021]

Red. Hot. High. Copper. Copper prices have continued to maintain their strong prices going into January of 2021 but we have seen a bit of a faltering market as of late. With the Biden administration taking over the reigns of the government there have been mixed messages about the commodities markets moving forward as new policies go into place. These changes generally take a considerable amount of time as markets adjust and things get settled in. 

Steel in Focus

The tariffs have been talked about as being used as a trade tool with other countries to make better deals. While many countries dislike the 10-25% tariffs that were implemented- we may see the new administration use them to their advantage in negotiations. We have heard through campaign promises that Biden wants more things made in the USA and that could keep pressure on the tariffs to be kept in place for the foreseeable future as we get things settled in. 

[UPDATED 11/30/20]

A hot topic this year was COVID, now the US has a new President coming into office and many people wonder about not only the stance on foreign metals – but the tariffs on them. After going through a massive up and down swinging year with the commodity market as well as with everything up and down we will see if the tariffs will last.

Many think that the new administration will change these in 2021 and get rid of some of them. While this may have been exciting a few months ago, now we have seen aluminum and steel prices on the rise as worldwide demand for these metals have begun to sprout higher. We will have to wait a few months in to see if executive orders take over and get rid of some of the tariffs or if we continue to push metals staying domestic. 

[UPDATED 7/2/19]

A hot topic this year in the scrap metal industry, US President Trump is planning to introduce metal tariffs for imports into the USA. With speculations ranging from a better market to a higher price for consumers, a lot of things that can happen. To try to make sense of all this, we break down what we know, what we don’t know, and what you should know.

What Are Metal Tariffs & What Do They Mean?

A conversation started in February 2018, metal tariffs would affect the cost of trade for countries importing metal products into the USA (with the exception of Canada and Mexico). Metal tariffs mean that any countries bringing in either raw aluminum or steel into the US would be charged a percentage to import it for further production of items. For example, a Chinese company processes steel scrap by having it shipped to their location internationally.

During the process of recycling, the steel is melted and reused for newer products or materials. That new material is shipped from China to the USA for further production of items like cars or buildings, the company selling them would be charged a tariff for importing it into the US.

How Could These Metal Tariffs Affect The US?

When these tariffs go into effect, there will be a few things that would impact USA and the scrap metal market. Tariffs like these would do a few things for those that are producing the products, consumers, and also those that process metals in the US.

Companies that need to use the metals from international companies who are getting charged more to import have to adapt. They could accommodate the higher costs by cutting employees, charging higher prices for goods, decreasing their business, or could shop elsewhere for materials. The tariffs may cause a company that needs metals for production to find a domestic processor in the US for their material.

Consumers could feel the effect of the tariffs with higher prices on goods like cars and infrastructure. If companies they buy from continue to import, the prices will go up to make up for the tariffs being paid for.

Metal processors in the US could see this as a good thing and have more companies coming to them domestically for their metals. This could increase production of materials, thus increasing demand. The higher demand in the US could directly affect the scrap prices in the US with local companies looking for more scrap. However, if the prices spike too quickly, there may be an overflow of material which would bring the prices down.

How Could These Metal Tariffs Affect International Trade Partners?

Countries that are big importers of metal into the US could immediately feel the effects from the tariffs with a lower demand from manufacturers in the USA. If domestic manufacturers begin to turn to domestic metal processors more often, the international companies will begin to lose business and value. This can directly affect the stock market on all levels.

Also, in response, some of these countries that import to the US, could turn around and apply similar tariffs to materials like scrap metal or other products being imported into their countries from the US. This could create another controversy of international processors losing money.

How Can Metal Tariffs Affect Scrap Prices?

These proposed metal tariffs will directly affect scrap metal prices and market value for all major commodities in scrap (steel, aluminum, copper). Like mentioned earlier, if US processors are seeking more scrap for processing than scrap prices could go up. But simultaneously, if international tariffs are created for metals like electronics or steel are applied, then the prices could go down too because it’s more costly to move the metals internationally.

What We Know:

Regardless of the order of events happening, we do know that these tariffs will have a direct effect on scrap metal prices. How much and to what degree, cannot be pinpointed at this time.

What We Don’t Know:

We do not know exactly how other countries plan to respond to these tariffs. Their responses can have a direct impact on scrap prices as well.

What You Need To Know:

Like we say every week on our Scrap Price Reports, we suggest that you continue to sell your materials. Scrap prices for all the major metals are strong and steady right now. Stay tuned for updated information on these tariffs by following the iScrap App on Facebook and signing up for our emails.

[Update: 7/2/2019]

It Happened.  The meeting went down, additional tariffs were not added and now we wait. The biggest meeting (or what seemed to be) at the G20 between President Trump and President Xi resulted in reopened trade negotiations and hope that we are going to start seeing results. The expectation was exactly what was delivered as the meeting happened and was the biggest meeting not to have a result as possible. 

Many people were hoping that a deal would happen- but we knew (as did many others) that the goal was to REOPEN dialogue, not to get a deal done. Now that it has happened and no further tariffs (for now) will be pushed against the Chinese we may start to see changes. On top of that, we saw that the Chinese will buy more soy beans from the US and that the US will allow manufacturers in America to restart selling components to Chinese firm Huawei (even though their products are not allowed to be sold in the US). 

These are positive pieces of news and we have to wait and see what will happen from here. The markets did not react how we wanted them to and have lowered since the trading sessions started.

[Update: 6/28/2019]

It’s Time.  The time is here. The meeting between President Trump and President Xi happens tomorrow (Saturday, June 29th) and the market is anxiously waiting. We are hoping to see a positive meeting, good news (great news would be nice- but it seems to be too complex for that), and a real plan being put into place. With the copper prices rallying recently we are optimistic that an initial deal will get done- but there are so many different things in play here.

Many believe that the Chinese have devalued their currency, thus leading to cheaper money and also lower tariff rates. There are still major questions due to the economic sanctions as well as if the Chinese are going to let companies from the US own and operate branches inside of China. These are all points of contention not to mention the intellectual property that the US continues to claim that the Chinese are taking without permission.

On Monday, July 1st we hope to have a brand new outlook and some great news for you. As we have seen iron prices dropping and precious metals rising we hope that this entire trend changes going forward.

[Update: 5/15/2019]

Trouble in Negotiations What  look to be promising negotiations is starting to turn ugly. Maybe it’s because the Chinese want to have both presidents meet in person to finalize the deal at the G 20 summit later in June, or it’s because both sides are starting to play hardball. Some people think that the drop off and tariff negotiations are due to  The upcoming meeting but others think it’s because of the possibility of President Trump not win the 2020 election. When people are looking at these tariffs they are thinking about more than just the immediate future and more about what’s going to happen down the road. 

We’re hopeful that these negotiations will pick back up and that the Chinese in the US will be able to find a fair agreement for both parties, but that does not mean that we are optimistic about this actually taking place. With the prices of most metal commodities been down recently it can be directly tied to these lack of negotiations and the drop off from what seem to be a deal that was going to be coming in the upcoming weeks. Now we have to wait and see what happens in June.

[Update: 5/8/2019]

Trouble in Tariff World While we hoped to have an answer by now- we are still waiting on any positive news for the trade negotiations. So far we have not seen them be positive- but the delegates from China are in the US meeting and we are hopeful for positive news. After seeing the stock markets dropping multiple times this week with triple digit losses (not to mention copper dropped $0.22 per lb over the last week or so) we have been hopeful to hear positive news.

With all of the commodities from oil to copper being all over the map it has been very difficult to gauge what is going on with everything on. Stay tuned- we are really hoping to get the good news soon. Thank you.

[Update: 4/11/2019]

Florida Meeting Anyone?  While the last month has been relatively quiet for the trade and tariff news- this does not mean that it has actually been quiet. We have heard that the meetings are aggressively continuing and there could be a meeting with both Presidents in Mar-A-Lago in early May and this would be a very significant piece of news for the talks.

While looking into and listening to trade experts they are saying that these talks may not be over for multiple months due to the intensity and the detail that they are going over with them- and this is a good thing. We want to hear that both countries are taking this seriously for the long-term sustainability for the scrap and trade markets overall. Having a positive deal for both sides to feel good about will help the overall economy even more and will strengthen the scrap prices long-term.

If we do not hear something good by June 1st we may be in for a much longer summer than we would anticipate.  

[Update: 3/8/2019]

8 Days Past- Now What?. We have heard that the trade talks are continuing to go well as the tariffs that were supposed to be implemented have now been put on hold. This is a very positive sign and we are excited to hear that we have more trade movement happening in a positive light. If we continue to hear about a meeting happening in Florida in a few weeks between President Xi (Pronounced “Shee”) and President Trump- then we will be on the very positive side of things.

With a potential deal being struck for the first time in decades that helps to push the trade balance back to the US’ side of things we may be in for a very positive news for commodities. Do not forget that the Chinese continue to consume 50% of the worlds steel and copper and their growth rate has been much higher then most other countries in the world over the last 30 years. 

We are hopeful that the talks with continue, with much of the dialogue being about more than just commodity talks and involving technology transfers, opening opportunities to outside companies to open branches, and so many other things going into them- they are not an easy 5 minute sit down meeting. We are not 6+ months into actual negotiations and both sides have walked away multiple times and have also boomeranged back to be able to work together and to hopefully get a deal resolved.

[Update: 2/8/2019]

20 Days Left. With news coming out that we have heard about more and more trade talks and even a possible meeting between President Trump and President Xi- we are trying to curb our enthusiasm. With copper markets climbing the last two weeks by almost $0.15 per pound we are hopeful that this continues to other non-ferrous metals like aluminum.

We wanted to take a brief minute to wish our condolences to the men, women, and the families of the mining company in Brazil that had a dam break and over 150 so far have been pronounced dead. This has caused iron ore pricing to increase as this mine has been shut down- and the domino effect has lifted scrap prices (but a lift that we would rather not have seen).

The tariff negotiations are tough ones- one reason being that some of the fundamental differences between the US and China are hard not to think about. One county being a Democratic nation while the others is a Communist one- these become two very tough to deal with factors overall while negotiating.

[Update: 1/9/2019]

Don’t Get Too Excited – But Conversations Are Going On. There have been multiple days of meetings between US and Chinese representatives and that is a positive sign. With 51 days until the deadline, while that seems like a long time to get a deal done- there is a lot of work and a lot of details to iron out.

Both countries want to walk away from these negotiations feels like they won something to go back and share with their leaders. This is the art of the deal and is very difficult to really get your head around it as tariff negotiations have not been a commonplace item and has raised all types of new problems and questions. 

We have seen the steel, copper, and gas prices (among many commodities) taking large hits and it does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. With so many questions we are still waiting for answers.

[Update: 1/3/2019]

Happy New Year – Prices Way Down. With the prices crumbling going into the first few days of the year we keep getting asked when is the pain going to stop and the markets going to pick up. If you have listed to, read, or paid attention to this trade situation you would know that we are in for a turbulent few months ahead (if not year). 

We have seen the markets react in negative ways with the stock market in 2018 having the biggest drops in 10 years. Oil prices continued to fall into the end of the year (although we did see the oil prices rise as OPEC held true to their promise of not increase but decreasing output and the markets did rise the early days in January 2019). 

Then we saw metal prices take a hit due to the tariffs, economic uncertainty, the government partial shutdown, and a flurry of other pieces of news hitting. Copper dropped 16 cents over a 4 day trading period going into 2019, steel prices are down $50 per ton over the last 4-5 weeks. Let’s not even get started with the aluminum prices which are sinking at a rate not seen in a very long time (well- not too long a time if you look at when the tariffs began to hit).

We are hoping that this trade way, US political battle, and so many factors will slow down and we will have to see how it ends up leveling itself out. Another update will come- we are just waiting for it to be a good one and we will get it over to you.

[Update: 12/4/2018]

And now we wait for 90-120 days. Saturday night President Trump and President Xi met and finally we have some positive news. The tariff increase that was scheduled to happen in January on $200 Billion worth of goods and go from 10% to 25% is now on hold. We are going to have a 90 day period from the beginning of January (not to mention the balance of December 2018) to get better deals together for both countries. 

With the first positive step forward in this entire process we can only take a small breather. We have seen positive signs happen before in other industries and other deals- to only fall apart later on. With this deal we have to hang low and take it slow. If the countries are able to sit down multiple times (don’t worry we will keep you posted on this, then we will be able to progress with the metal tariffs and other tariffs that are already in.

Both sides seemed to be happy (or so their pictures showed)- but now we have to wait over the next 100 or so days to see wha type of a trade deal that can and hopefully will be worked out. Stay tuned scrappers- we are on it.

[Update: 11/30/2018]

Well the day of the biggest date of all of 2018 has come. Saturday, December 1st we will have the dinner between US President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping and that beats any social media glamour couple like Kayne or Kim. With the meeting taking place in Argentina as a working dinner, we are going to see some major news on Monday about the markets one way or another. 

Positive New- If we hear that the US is going to hold off on further tariff increases then that will be very positive news and we can expect the market react very positively. If that happens we the reverse side of that is that we would expect to see the Chinese loosen up some of their regulations and then we would have more the potential for more business friendly rules in China going forward. We could also see an increase in copper prices, one analyst said up to $0.20 per lb of an increase in December alone.

Negative News- If we hear that the tariffs will still be imposed or that the meeting was cut short, or anything that does not sound good- chances are that it is not. As China tries to become the number 1 super power in the global economy they do not want any other countries to hold them back- namely the US. 

If the US continues to impose tariffs on goods and we hear that this meeting does not go smoothly, then we may be in for a bit of a long ride in the metals markets. 

Who thought you would care this much about a dinner between anyone?!?!?!

[Update: 10/24/2018]

Aluminum, Brass, and Copper (Oh My!). That’s what we have been saying to ourselves lately as the tariffs have not helped these scrap prices at all. While many may like the idea of America First, these tariff issues have become a major problem in the scrap world as metal prices for scrap have continued to be hit in a bad way. 

With low grade aluminum items like sheet and mixed extrusion markets being VERY difficult we have talked to scrap yards that are breaking even just to move material out of their warehouses in order to make room for other metals that they can make a profit with. 

Brass prices have struggled with the markets really getting hit as the Chinese pulled out of this yellow metals market over the last few weeks. We have seen prices that are reported online dipping as much as $0.20 per lb over a time period that has not had copper prices moving (don’t forget that Brass is made up of 60-90% copper). One more thing to complain about scrap metal pricing wise…BUMMER!

Insulated Wire markets have been coming back to life again with some Asian countries jumping into the markets for ICW items. We have even heard of more and more companies opening up wire chopping operations in the US and that may lead to higher prices on Insulated Copper Wire markets as these new operations will be looking to fill their warehouses with more and more materials. 

[Update: 9/12/2018]

Steel and aluminum still hurting. That’s what happens when no deals are being made and we have to wait a long period of time to get real answers. The countries that buy steel and aluminum from the US are being affected by the tariffs by having to pay more money to get their raw products into the US- and the logical place to pull the money from was the scrap markets.

The tariffs are having the opposite affect on the scrap market then normally happens when raw products go up. Imagine that oil prices increase by $50 per drums, would you think that gas prices go down? Of course not, you would expect gas prices to increase to cover that additional cost.

This is the exact opposite is going on right now and that is why we are seeing a depressed scrap steel and aluminum market. The copper and other metal prices are also being pushed down as a residual affect.

[Update: 8/29/2018]

What goes up, unfortunately, goes down. A lot of people keep asking us why the scrap prices are going down while new raw steel prices are going up. With the export market been hurt due to tariffs, the money that the countries and businesses inside of those countries have to pay to counter the tariffs have to come from somewhere. Unfortunately, they’re coming from the scrap metal market.

With the scrap prices being affected in a negative way, we are hoping that this is a short-term problem to what should be a long term solution. The United States is working with other countries to figure out a fair solution to these tariffs and trade concerns. While these negotiations are taking place this scrap market continues to get weaker until we can figure out where the bottom is and deals can be made.

With the recent deal between the Mexico and United States, there is starting to be a lot of optimism that this will be a trend of agreements with other countries and unions going forward. We are continuing to watch the negotiations and learn as much as we can and we will keep you posted as we get more information coming to us.

[Update: 7/25/2018]

It seems like this is not going to be going away slowly and we are going to have to get ready to ride the tariff train for a long time. The markets are reacting to more tariffs being put into place and in the last 6 weeks we have now seen copper prices drop 16% (it was almost 20% after a small rebound), and the price drops are not going to be the only thing that affects people. 

The markets are reacting, but a little more of a scary thing is how the low-grade markets are going to react going forward with copper trade problems. Copper has been one of the biggest determining factors in the economy for years, and with many of these tariffs affecting most of the overseas copper imports (and exports for that matter), we are going to be in for a rude awakening for a while. 

While large companies in the US have begun to report 2018 Quarter 2 numbers and many have had profits rise anywhere from 5-25% year over year, they are concerned about future problems. The markets are going to react in such a way that we do not know what to expect and with the risk of overseas importers not taking material creeping in, we may have a problem on our hands.

Items like electric motors, sealed units, low-grade copper-bearing items, and other lower grade copper wires will have a very hard time finding homes…as for years the Chinese have taken them in. Now we are going to go through a waiting period that will test the patience of many people and how they will be able to react to the market conditions.


[Update: 6/19/2018]

Well…it happened. The tariffs are beginning to kick in and the markets are reacting. Since copper hit 4-year highs in the trading Comex two weeks ago we have seen the markets drop about 8% since. With these large market drop,s we have seen scrap yards go on the defensive and drop their prices quickly with fears that they will further drop. 

With $50 billion being initiated in tariffs to China and another possibility of more tariffs on 200 billion in goods coming in the coming weeks, we are in for large fluctuations in the copper (and especially the wire markets) in the coming weeks and months until this gets sorted out.

On top of the tariffs with the Chinese, we also have a large quarrel of tariffs with many of our allies like we talked about above getting ready to go into effect as well.

These will be very tumultuous times in the metals markets and we will continue to stay on top of it. 

[Update: 5/31/2018]

It looks like China will not be the only one to have these tariffs placed on them as the US has let the European Union know that the tariffs will be applying to them as well. With a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff going to be imposed on aluminum, it looks like the US is extremely serious about how they see the trading picture shaping up.

This implementation of the tariffs has helped domestic steel producers in the short term, but we anticipate that the US will eventually work out agreements with many of its major allies including the European Union and China. Not having deals in place will cause retaliatory effects with some European officials say that they will impose sanctions on US items like Harley Davidson motorcycles and certain whiskeys.

What is happening right now has been done before, but never to this effect. The potential long-term gains from this tariffs will far outweigh the short-term losses, but having those short-term loses happening never makes one feel good.

[Update: 5/23/2018]

The US and China continue to work on an agreement that is fair for both countries to be able to open up the trading lanes again. They are putting a two-week hold on certain tariffs and trying to work out a deal by the middle of June to have a more fair set of rules and guidelines in place for the trading.

This would be an excellent change of scenery and could possibly open up many of the scrap trading options and allow scrap yards to start shipping materials out more quickly and be able to get much higher pricing.

These openings will allow materials like insulated copper wire, sealed units, and electric motors a much clearer opening for shipping out materials.

[Update: 5/3/2018]

With the US Government making some concessions and temporary holds to other countries before the tariffs went into effect on 5/1, we are waiting to see what will happen from here.

There were some countries that had the tariffs put in, but there are others that are now trying to negotiate with the US to be able to have a fairer deal put into place.

With aluminum prices climbing about 10% since the talk of the tariffs were started we have seen those prices retreat in the last week or so with different pieces of new coming out. Now we have to wait and see what happens from here.

[Update: 4/5/2018]

With the Chinese putting in their own tariffs against the USA for items like airplanes, soybeans, and many other goods it looks to be a bit of a trade war that could be looming. Many think that both the US and the Chinese governments are doing these things but will be sitting down in April or May 2018 to figure out a better method of working together, but we are still in a wait and see mode.

Many people think that there is a small chance that deal will not get done, but in case both countries do not find a solution we may be looking at a very dicey situation overall. This will affect the exporting of insulated copper wire overseas as well as many other metals and could Lead to a possible small depression.

We will update you on how this “tariff battle,” will be affecting the scrap markets down the road.

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