China issues 700k of recycled paper quota. Is it the last one ever?

China customs officials Hangzhou
Chinese customs officials inspect rejected loads of waste paper

A further 705,850 tonnes of recycled paper quota has been issued by the Chinese Government.

This takes the total so far this year to 7,049,450 tonnes compared to 10,305,027 tonnes in the same period last year.


In the remainder of 2019, a further 596,722 tonnes of paper quota was issued for the commodity codes 47071000, 47072000 and 47073000 with 47079000 banned since the beginning of 2018.

Paul’s view

Paul Sanderson, REB Market Intelligence
Paul Sanderson, REB Market Intelligence

Is this 700k the last ever quota issued for recovered paper by the Chinese Government? Quite possibly.

With the ban on imports of solid waste due at the end of this year, material will need to be shipped by early October to reach China before the ban comes into place.

However, shipments from US West Coast and Japan can get to China a little quicker, so we might see some more quota issued that would be appropriate for them.

But certainly, this could well be the end of an era and the last quota issue that affects the UK.

Having monitored Chinese announcements closely over the last few years, and read the regulation and legislation in detail, I have no doubt a ban is coming in at the end of the year on imports of solid waste.

Although, just to throw some interesting points out there:

  • I’ve never seen an exact date mentioned in any Chinese law or regulation – it has only been announced in a press conference by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment and other similar announcements
  • China has not yet notified the World Trade Organisation of its plans to ban imports of solid waste – you’d expect it to have done this, especially as it did it when it banned imports of plastic (having said that, it initially gave a couple of days notice in its WTO submission but then relented when other nations complained)
  • A complaint has been made by the United States against the China ban and no response has been issued yet
  • China has reclassified copper and aluminium in response to the realisation that it will be short of material.

Does this mean I think China will reverse the ban? No, I don’t. I don’t think the US will be successful in its WTO complaint either, especially as there is a bit of friction between China and the US at the moment.

But I do think there is a possibility that there will be a small reversal at some point in the future if its material needs are not adequately fulfilled via a reclassification of some paper grades (not mixed paper though). This will be after the ban is enforced though so China can announce to its populace that it is no longer importing waste from foreigners.

I also think China would prefer it if it imported pulp or finished product instead of material that needs to be sorted and recycled. Only if this falls short of its requirements would some sort of reclassification be considered.

Would I bet my house on a reversal at some point then? No. Assume the China ban is on its way, and treat it as a bonus if at some point it backtracks.

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