By Scott Patterson, Biman Mukherji and Vu Tron Khanh / Wall Street Journal
One of the world’s largest aluminum stockpiles, which until a few months ago was stored under hay and plastic tarp in a Mexican desert, has been moved to a remote port in southern Vietnam.
Starting early this year, 500,000 metric tons of aluminum has been trucked out of the Mexican city of San José Iturbide and shipped to Vietnam, according to shipping records and people familiar with the matter.
Much of it now sits under black tarps, guarded by baton-wielding men on motorcycles, at a factory and waterfront complex in the South China Sea port of Vung Tau, about a two-hour drive south of Ho Chi Minh City.
The unusually large shipments have captivated traders and aluminum-industry experts and sparked worries about what it means for global markets and aluminum prices. According to Global Trade Information Services, which tracks world-wide trade, Vietnam was the destination of 91% of Mexico’s aluminum-extrusion exports this year—a rarely used trade route for aluminum in recent years.
The Mexican stockpile, now in Vietnam, had been traced to one of China’s richest men, Liu Zhongtian, chairman of aluminum giant China Zhongwang Holdings.
American aluminum executives accused Mr. Liu of sending his metal to Mexico to disguise its Chinese origins and evade American tariffs—a charge. Liu and China Zhongwang denied.