CRU-CESCO-China's copper imports to maintain record levels this year -Chinalco exec

April 12 (Reuters) - China’s copper imports this year will match or even better the unprecedented levels seen in 2020 on the back of economic growth and a post-coronavirus rebound in manufacturing, an executive from state-run metals group Chinalco said on Monday.

Ma Huizhi, a vice president of Chinalco unit China Copper, said 2020 imports by top metals consumer China were 11.9 million tonnes on a copper content basis, taking into account inbound shipments of copper concentrate, blister, cathodes and scrap.

“It is expected that China’s copper demand and imports in 2021 will maintain the same level of 2020 and keep a minor increase with the gradual easing of the global epidemic,” he told the CRU World Copper virtual conference.

China Copper is one of the country’s top copper producers, with 1.35 million tonnes of annual primary smelting capacity.

China needed only 10 months of 2020 to beat its previous annual record for imports of unwrought copper and copper products as a rapid recovery in demand after the coronavirus outbreak sent Shanghai prices above London prices, opening up an arbitrage for cheaper overseas metal to flow in.

However, many analysts, including at state-backed research house Antaike, do not think metal imports can reach the same level this year.

Meanwhile, Ma noted tight supply and high prices had “re-ignited” enthusiasm for investment in copper mines.

“However, I think with the experience and lessons of overseas investment in the past 15 years, Chinese mining enterprises will tend to be more rational and market-oriented” in their decisions, Ma said.

China’s General Administration of Customs is on Tuesday due to release preliminary trade data, including on copper imports, for March and the first quarter.

Reporting by Tom Daly Editing by Marguerita Choy