"High level diplomacy" needed for Chinese import ban

The Recycling Association and Confederation of Paper Industries have highlighted their concerns over the Chinese ban on the import of recyclable materials in a joint letter to government ministers.

The Chinese Government has recently notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of its intention to ban the import of scrap plastics and unsorted paper by the end of the year. Signed by The Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin and Confederation of Paper Industries director general Andrew Large, the letter has been sent to four ministers, asking for "high level diplomacy" and notifying their concerns.

Whilst the letter highlights the Recycling Association and Confederation of Paper Industries' support for the efforts by the Chinese Government to improve environmental standards and health of its population, the letter writes that the recycling industry in the UK has responded with initiatives to improve quality of material sent to China, and that it requires a supply chain response including manufacturers, retailers, local authorities, recyclers, waste management companies, and shipping lines, to ensure Chinese import standards are met.

The letter criticises the Chinese Government’s approach to the ban, notifying the WTO on 18 July 2017 and asking for comments by the 20 July 2017. The trade associations state that 60 day deadline is seen as standard, rather than the two days offered by the Chinese Government, which they believe to be insufficient. As a result, the letter requests that the Government makes representation to the Chinese Government to extend the deadline for comments to allow for the opportunity to work with the Chinese Government on improving quality.

International standards for exports

The Recycling Association and Confederation of Paper Industries suggest that the move by China goes against the grain of free and international trade and that the Chinese Government, as part of the circular economy, must also take some responsibility for the materials it places on the market in the form of manufactured goods. They request that the UK engages in agreeing international standards for the export of high-quality recyclable material as part of the circular economy.

The Recycling Association president Adrian Jackson said: “Both The Recycling Association and Confederation of Paper Industries believe that it is important to make representation to the UK Government over the Chinese WTO notification that it intends to ban the import of scrap plastic and unsorted paper among other materials.

“This action by the Chinese Government seems draconian and against the spirit of international trade, especially as many companies, including our members, have worked hard to improve quality.

“But for those materials that are still allowed to be exported to China, this ban should serve as a warning. Unless the whole supply chain takes responsibility for the recyclability of a product at the end of its life, then key markets such as China will disappear. As a result, we have also asked the Government to help us make the entire supply chain aware of the need to improve quality.”

China’s proposed ban is only the most recent in a series of crackdowns on the import of foreign waste, the latest being the National Sword campaign, launched in February 2017, which is targetting the illegal smuggling of ‘foreign waste’. The campaign has already resulted in hundreds of containers full of imported waste turned away at Chinese ports.

The letter has been sent to:

  • The Right Honourable Dr Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for International Trade
  • The Right Honourable Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
  • The Right Honourable Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • The Right Honourable Mark Field MP, Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.


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