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China Copper Ore Imports to Rise 20%, Trafigura Says

April 9, 2008 at 18:56 by Mario

China, the world’s biggest copper consumer, may increase imports of ore used to make the metal by 20 percent to a record this year, said Trafigura Beheer BV, the country’s top supplier.
Purchases of so-called concentrate, or processed ore containing copper, may rise to 5.4 million metric tons from 4.5 million tons in 2007 as China expands in smelting, said Simon Collins, director of Trafigura Trading Shanghai Co., a unit of Trafigura. China would become the world’s top buyer, surpassing Japan which bought 5.05 million tons last year.
China’s 11.4 percent economic growth in 2007, the fastest in 13 years, fueled demand for copper and pushed prices to a record $8,820 a ton on the London Metal Exchange on March 6. Investment in cities and highways has spread to the center and west of the world’s most populous country, increasing consumption of metals for power, homes, factories and cars.
“If you travel outside of Shanghai and Beijing to provincial capitals and second-tier cities, you’ll see an enormous amount of development going on,” Collins said by telephone from Shanghai April 4. “I’m very bullish on China.”
Trafigura, a closely held commodities trader based in Amsterdam, is the largest seller of copper concentrate to China, supplying about 1 million tons a year, said Collins, who is responsible for metals and minerals operations in the country. The company sells more than 600,000 tons of lead and zinc ore, and about 1 million tons of alumina a year, ranking in the top five suppliers of these materials to China.
200 Million People
Sales from metals and minerals totaled $11.3 billion in 2007, of which Asia contributed $5.4 billion. The company’s total revenue, including oil, was $51 billion.
The nation’s consumption of metals will grow for at least two more decades because of a population shift from rural areas to cities, Collins said.
“You’re going to see a movement of probably 200 million people over the next 20 years to urban areas,” he said.
Rising imports of copper concentrate may push down processing fees as smelters compete for scarce global ore supplies, said Takashi Murata, an analyst at the Daiwa Institute of Research in Tokyo. That may reduce costs for BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group. BHP won a cut of as much as 25 percent in fees from smelters this year.
China imported 951,860 tons of copper concentrate in the first two months of this year, up 32 percent from 721,850 tons last year, according to the country’s customs. Japan imported 746,570 tons, down 9.4 percent from 823,762 tons a year before, Japanese customs data show.
Top Buyer
“It’s highly possible China will be the world’s top buyer of copper concentrate this year,” Daiwa’s Murata said.
Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Japan’s second-largest importer of concentrate, plans to cut copper output by 15 percent to 179,000 tons from April to September this year compared with a year earlier because of a 30-day maintenance shutdown at the Toyo smelter starting in May, the company said April 1.
Copper for three-month delivery in London fell 0.4 percent to $8,502 a ton at 4:08 p.m. Singapore time. The price has gained 16 percent in the past year.

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