Along the same lines as the questions recently asked by the United States in the WTO Committee on Customs Valuation, the United States raised issues related to China’s import ban on solid waste during a recent meeting of the Committee on Import Licensing. The minutes of the October 9, 2020 meeting have now been made public (WTO Document G/LIC/M/51).
According to the United States, the economic problem arising from the Chinese restrictions is the following: “abrupt restrictions and progressively restrictive bans had left many United States recyclers without viable alternative processing capacity.” More generally, the United States said that “China’s scrap ban was having a detrimental effect on global recycling markets and might, in fact, cause more environmental damage than good in the long-term.”
China responded by saying that “solid waste was different from other normal goods due to its inherent polluting attributes [and] contaminants and residues generated by the disposal process of solid waste caused serious environmental pollution and harmed human, animal, and plant health heavily.” China also “hoped that exporting countries could live up to their international responsibilities to handle and dispose of their own solid waste rather than seeking to realize benefits at the cost of the environment of other countries.”
Some media discussion of this issue can be found here:
Alana Semuels, “Is This the End of Recycling?“, The Atlantic. March 5, 2019
Christopher Joyce, “Where Will Your Plastic Trash Go Now That China Doesn’t Want It?,” NPR, March 13, 2019
The full U.S. statement and Chinese response on the waste import issue as reported in the meeting minutes are as follows:
10.1. The representative of the United States said that her delegation had significant concerns about the changes to import licensing surrounding China’s implementation of its import ban on solid waste, including recyclable materials such as certain plastic and paper scrap, while allowing certain “recycled raw materials” such as copper, aluminium, and brass to be imported as long as those materials met strict purity standards. The United States also had concerns with apparent fundamental differences between requirements for foreign and domestic commodities. She said that these abrupt restrictions and progressively restrictive bans had left many United States recyclers without viable alternative processing capacity. The global shortfall in processing capacity had also caused the decline and, in some cases, collapse in prices for some recyclable materials. She noted that the pervasive market instability engendered by China’s measures had led to a halt in recycling among some US municipal recycling programmes, resulting in the incineration or landfill disposal of otherwise saleable commodities. She recalled that the United States had raised the issue of certain recyclable materials at several previous meetings of the Committee. The United States had also asked China to notify to the Committee any changes to its import licensing regime. Unfortunately, China had yet to provide information about its current licensing procedures and any planned changes that would have been sufficient to alleviate their concerns. She asked China if they had considered less trade-restrictive alternatives to outright bans on materials.
10.2. She added that the United States also had concerns that certain scrap materials, such as bundled recycled newspaper, would be banned, whereas other more processed scrap materials, such as pulped paper and “smelter ready” metals, would be allowed. In this respect she asked China to explain the scientific basis it used to determine which categories of scrap materials were safe and which were not. She also asked China to explain the new import licensing requirements under this policy and to state when it would notify these changes to this Committee.
10.3. Going forward, the United States asked that China adhere to its notification obligations in a timely manner under the Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures with respect to any new import measures. Finally, she reiterated her delegation’s prior request that China halt its implementation of the existing and planned measures. She stated, as she had noted in her intervention, that China’s scrap ban was having a detrimental effect on global recycling markets and might, in fact, cause more environmental damage than good in the long-term.
10.4. The representative of China thanked the United States for their concerns on this issue. He said that solid waste was different from other normal goods due to its inherent polluting attributes. He noted that the contaminants and residues generated by the disposal process of solid waste caused serious environmental pollution and harmed human, animal, and plant health heavily. China, as a developing country, had suffered for decades because of the solid waste imported into China from other countries. Given the great challenges in addressing environmental pollution, it was imperative for China to implement measures to limit the negative effect of importing and processing solid waste. From a worldwide perspective, the danger of solid waste had been acknowledged by almost every country. According to the Brussels Convention and other internationally accepted principles, every country had the obligation to properly handle and dispose of its domestically produced solid waste. He said that his delegation hoped that exporting countries could live up to their international responsibilities to handle and dispose of their own solid waste rather than seeking to realize benefits at the cost of the environment of other countries. Regarding transparency, he said that China had fully taken into consideration its obligations under the WTO during the process of developing its relevant policies; it had also notified the relevant measures to the WTO. He added that his delegation would fully notify other measures, as required by other agreements. He said that his delegation had taken note of the concerns of the United States and that these would be transmitted to their Capital in due course.