China National Non-ferrous Metals Industry Corp (CNNC), the mainland's largest metals trader, has suffered the 'most difficult' year in its history, the company says. It has revealed a plunge in last year's net profits to five million yuan (about HK$4.66 million), down from 1.62 billion yuan in 1995. The dive followed the collapse in copper prices on international markets after the discovery that Sumitomo Corp's chief copper trader Yasuo Hamanaka racked up losses of US$2.6 billion, CNNC vice-president Chen Shengnian said after his opening address at a China non-ferrous metals fair held in Hong Kong. He said the copper price plunged to as low as $1,600 a tonne last year, from a high of $3,000. The price of aluminium also fell sharply. This led to a sharp reduction in production and trading of those metal products, Mr Chen said. Copper and aluminium are the major trading metals of the company which is headed by Wu Jianchang , a son-in-law of China's late paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping . He expected the company to improve its earnings this year because copper prices have stabilised at about $2,700. Mr Chen said the company's foreign trade only inched up last year because of volatility on the international metal markets. He said its foreign trade stood at $1.87 billion, compared with $1.82 billion in 1995, with exports rising slightly to $1.18 billion. Mr Chen said CNNC would try to change its trading methods and draw up long-term plans to buy raw materials on the international metals market to reduce volatility. In the past, China had bought on the international market as and when the need arose, he said. 'Now, we must think long-term,' he said, noting that China would try to find stable suppliers of raw material for more long-term arrangements. Mr Chen said CNNC would create a separate holding company as part of its restructuring efforts to increase efficiency. He said the holding company would take three years to take shape and its focus would be on the enhancement of its assets. CNNC has three listed subsidiaries in Hong Kong including metal traders Onfem Holdings, Oriental Metals (Holdings) Co and Silver Grant International Industries, an infrastructure and retail company.