Beijing — China’s copper producers and traders are riding an unexpected surge of business that has pushed physical prices to their highest levels in nearly two years as fabricators rush to buy refined metal to avoid import tariffs on scrap from Thursday. The buying spree took off after Beijing announced two weeks ago it would hit $16bn worth of US imports, including scrap metal, with duties of 25% from August 23 in retaliation for a similar move by Washington. The US is one of China’s biggest copper scrap suppliers. The surge has given short-term relief to the world’s top market for the metal, often taken as a bellwether for the health of China’s economy. Demand growth had slowed just as a wave of new capacity was due to start up. Physical copper premiums in China jumped to as high as $91 a ton this week, the most since November 2016, and are up 13% in the past two weeks alone. Five weeks ago, the premiums were languishing at near 10-month lows. Chinese copper importers pay premiums...

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