Australian copper production declines in 2020

The International Copper Study Group (ICSG) has found that global copper mine production remained stable in 2020 despite production declines in Australia.

The world’s copper mine production was most heavily impacted in April-May last year due to temporary mine shutdowns in the wake of COVID-19.

This period recorded a 3.5 per cent year-over-year decline.

However, the ICSG found global mine production recovered as early as June 2020 as the industry adapted to health protocols, moving away from lockdowns.

Last year, world copper production grew by around 1.5 per cent in 2020, while primary production was up by 2.8 per cent. The preliminary data did not include specific production numbers for Australia.

The ICSG described the results as “essentially unchanged”, with additional output from new projects in Panama and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) leveraging the pandemic’s impact on copper production.

“COVID-19 related constraints and other operational issues also resulted in declines in production in other major copper mine producing countries, most notably Australia, Mexico and the United States,” the ICSG stated.

Meanwhile, Chile’s full-year output declined by 1 per cent, while Indonesia’s production also increased by 39 per cent in 2020 due to a transition of ore zones at its two major copper mines.

Preliminary data from the ICSG suggests the world’s refined copper balance for 2020 had a deficit of 560,000 tonnes due to strong Chinese demand.

Outside of China, copper usage is estimated to have declined by around 10 per cent, while China enjoyed a 38 per cent (1.2 million tonnes) boost to its copper imports.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia’s copper exports grew from $10.2 billion in 2019 to $10.4 billion in 2020.

The resources sector added $116 billion in exports revenue to Australia’s economy last year, up from $96 billion in 2019.

Copper has entered 2021 with a strong streak of higher prices, with its London Metal Exchange (LME) prices peaking at $US9615.50 ($12,630) per tonne on February 25.

February 2021 was the first time copper had risen above $US9000 since 2011, in the same year copper achieved a record $US10,190 price per tonne.

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