Trade department proposes continuation of South Africa’s scrap export ban

South Africa’s department of trade, industry and competition has suggested a prohibition on foreign shipments of scrap metal be extended for six months. Steel sector body Seifsa disagrees with continuation of a policy primarily intended to tackle the theft of copper.

The department concedes the ban, first imposed in 2022, has had minimal effect on reducing the problem and the theft of copper and ferrous metal remain at very high levels, causing considerable damage to infrastructure and the economy. The stealing of copper cable has forced rail operator Transnet to suspend operations from time to time because of power outages.

“Based on the feedback and representations, including from those made by state-owned enterprises, consideration is being given to extending the temporary export prohibition … for a further period of six months,” the department said in a Government Gazette notice.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) opposes the proposal. “Seifsa’s position has always been that the scrap metal export ban is misguided in the issue that it is attempting to solve, namely infrastructure damage for scrap metal theft,” president Elias Monage was quoted as saying by the Business Day newspaper.

“It is an extremely blunt measure with unintended industrial policy consequences. More worryingly, it communicates a very poor economic signal by not taking into account a total steel perspective.”

Railway track, electricity pylons and streetlights are among the infrastructure items targeted by thieves.

Separately the government is considering imposing a requirement that registered buyers must purchase copper scrap or semi-finished copper products from registered sellers only, and introducing a reporting system whereby scrap dealers must submit monthly reports to the country’s International Trade Administration Commission showing all purchases and sales of metal products by volume and values.

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