Europe’s wrangle over domestic metal scrap exports seen continuing in 2024

Author Laura Varriale

Trade restrictions have long been a frontier for lobby groups voicing their concerns to legislators. As Europe’s metals industry embarks on the energy transition journey and governments set their climate targets, recycled scrap exporters and European producers remain at odds — and their lobby groups are wrangling over whether secondary raw material exports should remain in Europe to supply regional producers.

The European Union is looking to make several changes to export rules in early 2024. These changes include mainly obligations for secondary raw material exports, which are expected to be sought-after products in the coming years as European producers fear a supply gap.

European producers of steel or aluminum are driving toward lower carbon emission production, which is expected to come with a change in demand for secondary raw materials.

Although the EU’s Waste Shipment Regulation (EUWSR) is, after intensive lobbying by recyclers, not banning scrap exports outright, recyclers will still have to bear the burden of increased regulation. The EU classified recycled steel, copper and aluminum as waste.

The proposal is expected to be formerly adopted at the final stage in early 2024 with implementation in around three years and foresees scrap exports to non-OECD countries following certain environmental obligations needing to be audited. The audits would prove that the facilities treat waste in an environmentally sound manner and operators would only be allowed to export waste to these facilities if this were the case. Exports to OECD countries will also be more closely monitored.

Thomas Junker, president of German steel scrap association BDSV, told S&P Global Commodity Insights that the exact details how this will be enforced and realized are still unknown. The EU is the world’s largest exporter of ferrous scrap and traditionally a net exporter.

European recyclers association EuRIC told S&P Global that they would continue working on achieving the best possible preparation for these legislative changes.

“Export rules for ferrous and non-ferrous scrap will become more restrictive,” said Antoine Stilo, EU policy adviser at EuRIC, calling the EU’s export/import rules “asymmetric.”

“For steel scrap, the EU exports around 20% of scrap generated in the EU, due to insufficient uptake of steel scrap by European steel mills.”