May began with a surprise announcement from the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) notifying its members that the U.S. operations of China Certification and Inspection Group North America (CCIC NA) had been suspended for one month, effective May 4 through June 4, 2018.

“As a result, no [outbound scrap shipment] inspections can be arranged or certificates issued during this period,” ISRI stated, as CCIC’s preinspection system in North America has been temporarily closed. “There is no doubt that this will severely impact U.S. scrap exports to China,” the organization said in a May 3 announcement.

ISRI warned its members that “containers that received CCIC approval prior to May 4 but that have not yet obtained their certificate will encounter difficulty at the port of entry.”

Additionally, as of May 4, all shipments arriving in China from the U.S. were required to be opened for inspection. Shipments containing unwanted materials are subject to “100 percent examination with lab testing analysis,” ISRI said.

"Additionally, as of May 4, all shipments arriving in China from the U.S. were required to be opened for inspection.”

One nonferrous metal trader I spoke with in mid-May said his company had 60 to 70 loads en route that were affected by the decision. While he expressed uncertainty that the U.S. CCIC NA office will reopen for business by the June 4 date, he said one thing he knew for sure is that the inspection process would be much stricter when it did resume. He added that Customs laws would no longer be open to interpretation as they have been. “Only furnace-ready material is going to be accepted going forward.”

ISRI said the Chinese General Administration of Customs (GACC) issued a notice stating the steps were being taken because of the failure of “multiple batches” of material arriving at Chinese ports that did not meet the government’s environmental protection standards.

Port inspectors have been directed to carefully review inspection and shipping documents to verify, among other information, that the preshipment inspection certificate was issued before shipping, proper preshipment inspection was conducted and all addresses and other information are accurate, the association said.

Scrap processors and traders received better news May 22, when GACC agreed to let scrap shipments from the U.S. be inspected by CCIC’s Canada-based agency through June 4, 2018. The announcement might offer cold comfort to the scrap processors and traders who are showing a growing reluctance to do business with China given the evolving situation. If the U.S. scrap industry has learned anything in the last year and a half, it is to prepare for the unexpected when it comes to China.