China’s efforts to thread the needle between an often conflicting array of environmental, economic, social and geopolitical objectives are playing out in increasingly unpredictable global commodity markets.
The world’s biggest consumer of raw materials, and a major producer of some of them, is attempting to curb carbon emissions and conserve electricity, while at the same time preserving economic growth. It’s also trying to clean up its oil refining sector, improve mine safety and isn’t averse to using trade policy for geopolitical ends, as evidenced by its ban on Australian coal imports.
The problem is that many of these policies are cutting the supply of commodities and pushing up prices, making Beijing’s goal to rein in inflation a lot more difficult. The trade-offs are having differing impacts on markets: iron ore prices have plunged as steel production is curbed, coal has surged due to the mine safety push and the row with Australia, while energy-intensive aluminum has jumped to a ten-year high amid the power saving drive.
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