A new package of sanctions adopted by the Japanese government against Russia is due to come into force on 7 April. The measures it envisages include, among other things, a ban on aluminium shipments. To all appearances, the Japanese government expects it to deal a devastating blow to consumption of the winged metal in Russia.
In reality, there would hardly be any tangible damage from an embargo on aluminum because of Japan’s unique non-ferrous metals industry and its ties to a recalcitrant Russia that does not want to give in under the weight of sanctions from the United States and its allies.
The fact is that Japan does not produce primary aluminum from bauxite, but produces about 700,000-730,000 tons of secondary aluminum per year. Another 1.8 million tons of aluminum (primary and secondary) is imported from various countries.
Of this amount, most of it is used directly in Japan; for example, it’s used to produce flat-rolled steel for the aircraft industry and car wheels. Pure aluminium is not exported – only semi-finished products, and in relatively small quantities. In Russia, they hardly ever reach the market, and no one would even notice that they are no longer imported.
The situation would be much more serious if Japan were to stop buying aluminium from Russia: its market is of interest to domestic producers because of its large volume and good prices offered by local consumers. But then the price of aluminium on Japan’s domestic market would rise, leading to a chain increase in the price of all types of products made from the winged metal.
This was already the case in 2018, when Japan stopped buying aluminium from Rusal due to US sanctions against it. But Rusal coped with the problem by redirecting sales flow from Japan to other markets, but its Japanese customers had to look for a replacement in an emergency.
Whether Rusal restored exports to Japan after sanctions were lifted is uncertain, but in any case the losses to Japanese industry were quite tangible.