When I wrote my words for last year’s Annual Report, I was fairly confident that the year ahead would see some positive signs, and I was very much looking forward to the Convention in Istanbul and my first full year as BIR President. Well, I think it is fair to say things didn’t quite go to plan.
What can we say about 2020? From a global perspective, it has probably been the biggest challenge many of us have faced in our lives. A global pandemic that still continues to cause havoc; a global economy that has suffered as a result; racial tensions throughout the world sparked by an incident in the USA; an American election with division the like of which we have never seen before; political turmoil from east to west; and of course, Brexit thrown in for good measure. Eventful certainly, but not necessarily in a good way.
As for our industry, the year was something of a roller-coaster ride. When lockdowns began to be implemented throughout the world, there was an immediate impact. Volumes dropped sharply as the supply chain dried up; many consumers of our materials shut their gates as production was suspended; and prices plummeted as demand for our materials fell dramatically.
It was an uncertain and challenging time for all of us, with a number of companies closing yards. But as we have said many times, our industry is resilient. There has been no better example of this than in 2020: we adapted and cut our cloth accordingly; we introduced COVID-safe working practices and opened up yards once again. Demand started to pick up and prices began to improve, obviously helped by the pressure in the supply chain. We finished 2020 with a strong market and with many companies reporting they had made up the ground that had been lost during the first few months of lockdown.
The ferrous market was also helped by the announcement that China would allow certain scrap to be imported. While only a token amount of business was actually done, it did help sentiment. In addition, the announcement by China that it aims to be carbon neutral by 2060 bodes well for scrap as a vital raw material.
From the moment lockdowns were implemented and it was clear the BIR Convention in Istanbul would have to be cancelled, our world organization stepped up to the plate. Regular calls with national associations were set up so we could communicate detailed, up-to-the-minute information to our members. BIR was also instrumental in promoting recycling as an “essential business”, enabling it to operate during lockdowns. BIR worked tirelessly with our colleagues from the Material Recycling Association of India and the country’s Inland Importers and Consumers Association, writing to Indian government ministers (including Prime Minister Modi), the Indian port authorities and shipping lines to help resolve the container congestion crisis directly affecting our members.
Behind the scenes, BIR continued with its vital advocacy work, protecting the interests of recyclers on a whole range of issues, not least ensuring the free trade of our materials throughout the world. With Conventions being an important source of revenue for BIR but, more importantly, a vital part of BIR’s service to members, the Secretariat quickly organized a hugely successful, free-of-charge Global eForum taking place from June 2 to 23. An emerging second wave of the pandemic dashed our hopes of resuming face-to-face events in October and so, once again, the BIR team organized a series of excellent webinars over a five-day period. Regular online meetings continued to be held with national associations and advocacy work remained top of the agenda.
At the time of writing this report, many of us are in the grip of a much more virulent wave of the pandemic. Lockdowns have been introduced once again throughout the world. Many events that we thought would be going ahead this year now look a lot less likely. Some of us by now will also have had first-hand experience of the COVID virus and of losing family members and friends as a result. To all of those people, I offer my heartfelt condolences.
Despite the ongoing challenges, we should remain optimistic. A number of vaccines are being rolled out that should relieve the pressure in the months ahead. Demand will improve as economies start to move once again. We see China forecasting 8.5% growth for 2021 – this from the only major economy to register a higher GDP in 2020 (preliminary estimates suggest +2.3%).
While it is good news that demand in China is set to increase and that its economy is near to normal again, all of us should also look to support our domestic economies as best we can during the years ahead while maintaining our ability to trade freely at a global level.
BIR, as the global representative of the recycling industry, will continue to show leadership and deliver value for its members. We will look to continue to increase communication with our members through a number of online initiatives, including the excellent new series called “The Challenge” which had its first session on January 14 2021. BIR will be organizing a very full online Convention for May 2021 and is confident of putting together a face-to-face event for October.
It has been a challenging time to be BIR President. As soon as the virus allows, however, I hope to become more than a “virtual President” who is only seen online. I would like to thank each and every one of our members for their continued support and to confirm that, as your President, I remain committed to leading BIR through this challenging period, ensuring we deliver the best service to all of you.
Stay safe everyone!