The world’s largest copper mine is moving closer to a shutdown. With unionized workers at Chile’s Escondida operation yesterday rejecting owner BHP’s latest wage offer — and now facing a strike vote on Friday.
That’s a critical development for overall copper production from South America. A region that new data this week shows has become a major focus for the world’s number one copper-importing nation: China.
China’s General Administration of Customs released import statistics for 2016 on Tuesday. Showing that incoming shipments of copper concentrate from South America took another big jump during the past year.
World-leading copper nation Chile led the way. With imports from here to China rising 26.7% during 2016, to 4.74 million tonnes.
That’s almost the same percentage increase that China’s imports from Chile saw during 2015 — when shipments rose 27%. Suggesting that Chilean copper concentrate is increasingly in demand amongst Chinese buyers.
But there was another critical point in the new customs data. China’s copper imports from Chile’s South American neighbor, Peru are also on a tear.
Peru actually became China’s number two source of copper concentrate imports during 2016. With shipments from here totalling 4.61 million tonnes.
All together, Chile and Peru accounted for 55% of China’s total copper concentrate imports of 17.05 million tonnes in 2016. With the next-biggest supplier, Mongolia, shipping only 1.50 million tonnes.
That’s coming as Chinese firms are expanding their captive mining operations in these countries. With projects like Toromocho and Las Bambas helping to boost output from Peru the last few years.
The trend toward Chinese focus on South American copper is likely to continue. With Ecuador becoming a new center of supply — following the opening of the Chinese-backed Mirador mine, scheduled for 2018.
The Andean copper belt is one of the world’s richest, and access to Asia is good. Watch for more interest in projects here from developers in China, and other key copper markets in Asia.