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Non-Ferrous Metals

Non-Ferrous Metals

Though dependent on mineral imports, European industry has achieved specialisation and competitiveness in recycling.

What are non ferrous metals?

There are two categories of non-ferrous metals:

  • Common metals: mainly aluminum, copper, zinc, lead and nickel.
  • Precious metals: gold, silver, platinum and palladium.

Non-ferrous metals serve as a first step for a considerable number of applications in manufacturing, such as mechanical engineering, transport, aerospace, construction, packaging, electricity and energy, consumer electronics, medical devices, the steel industry, etc. Therefore, demand for these metals has constantly increased with manufacture growth. This situation has changed since mid 2008 due to the global economic crisis.

What is the importance of this economic sector in the EU?

The share of the non-ferrous metals sector in EU manufacturing value added is 1.37 % (€23.4bn.); and the share in employment is 1.0 % (334 800 people). Turnover of the sector was €139.04bn (2.0 %). Employment has remained stable between 2003 and 2006, whereas productivity has increased.

What is the situation regarding EU trade in non-ferrous metals?

As the EU is deficient in raw materials, the European refining industry depends on the import of minerals from abroad, particularly on waste and scrap for recycling. It is in this latter area that the European industry has achieved very high levels of specialisation and competitiveness.

EU production of refined metals is not sufficient to satisfy the internal demand. Therefore, the whole sector is characterised by a large trade deficit.


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  • Imports (2009): €34 billion
  • Exports (2009): €26 billion
  • Trade balance (2009): – €8 billion


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What are the trade issues the EU non-ferrous metal industry is facing?

The EU industry is facing a number of trade issues:

  1. Trade restrictions: protection practices and/or state aid in some third countries, and
  2. Raw materials: The EU industry is highly dependent on third countries for imported materials. Restrictive measures such as export taxes or quotas jeopardising the access to raw materials at competitive prices is a real threat for this industry, as well issues as the arrival of newly emerging countries as competitors and the need for a level-playing field.

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What is the trade policy of the EU in this sector?

The EU, through the Commission, can carry out actions for improved access of EU products to third countries’ markets. These actions are the natural complement of the commitments undertaken by the EU and by its trading partners within the WTO negotiations and in the context of interregional or bilateral trade agreements.

From a commercial point of view, these metals are subject to the general trade rules of the WTO negotiated by the Community.

Import duties for non-ferrous metals ranged between 0% (copper and nickel) and 6% (aluminum). The Commission has indicated in 2010 that maintaining the autonomous custom duty suspension of 3% currently applicable on unwrought not alloyed aluminium, under Regulation 501/2007, is the most appropriate response to the current and very specific situation in the aluminium market. Coherently with its industrial structure, the EU trade policy has always privileged the duty-free imports of basic raw materials (minerals), allowing for a modest protection of the refining and transforming industries.