Iron-ore drives Aus exports to record highs

Article by Esmarie Iannucci courtesy of Mining Weekly.

New data from the Office of the Chief Economist has estimated that Australia’s resources and energy exports would reach a record A$310-billion in 2020/21, with nearly half of the earnings coming from iron-ore alone.

Exports are expected to increase further to A$334-billion in 2021/22, before moderating world economic growth and falling prices are expected to reduce export earnings to A$304- billion by 2022/23.

Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said as the world recovers from the global Covid-19 pandemic, record iron-ore prices have driven a surge in export earnings, while metallurgical coal exports are also benefiting from a surge in world steel production.

“The June edition of Resources and Energy Quarterly from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, forecasts total resources and energy exports of A$310-billion for 2020/21, up 7% on the previous record from 2019/20 and up from the A$296-billion forecast in March,” he said.

“These incredible results underline the importance of Australia’s resources sector to the national economy and international markets throughout the Covid-19 downturn.

“Australia’s energy and resources sector has remained safe and reliable suppliers to domestic and global markets throughout the pandemic, helping to underpin economic growth and overcome the challenging trade conditions of the past year.

“The outlook for Australia’s energy and resource commodity exports continues to improve.

“The sector is poised to take advantage of the global post-Covid recovery and capture opportunities from strong demand and higher prices across a range commodities,” said Pitt.

“Our iron-ore producers are benefitting from current high prices and decades of investment and innovation, while coal exporters have pivoted to new markets to regain much of the losses from Covid downturn and China’s informal import restrictions.

”Since March, iron-ore prices have broken the $200/t mark, the Minister said, noting that the outlook is for exports to grow from 871-million tonnes in 2020/21 to 954-million tonnes by 2022/23.

Iron-ore export values are estimated to have risen from A$103-billion in 2019/20 to A$149-billion in 2020/21, with easing prices in late 2021 expected to push earnings down to A$113-billion by 2022/23.

Meanwhile, the report noted that export values for metallurgical coal are forecast to reverse most of their recent decline, rebounding from A$22-billion in 2020/21 to almost A$32-billion by 2022/23, in line with improving global industrial production and economic activity.

Australia’s metallurgical exports are forecast to rise from a 2020/21 low of 171-million tonnes to reach 186-million tonnes by 2022/23.

Thermal coal exports fell from 213-million tonnes in 2019/20 to a forecast 194-million tonnes in 2020/21, driven by the Covid-19 pandemic and informal import restrictions imposed by China against Australia-sourced coal. However, exports are expected to recover to 212-million tonnes by 2022/23, as economies around the Asian region return to normal conditions.

Export values for thermal are forecast to be A$17-billion in 2021/22, down from A$20-billion in 2019/20.

Australian liquefied natural gas (LNG) export volumes are forecast to increase by 5.3% to 83-million tonnes in 2021/22. LNG exports earnings are forecast to increase from an estimated A$33-billion in 2020/21 to A$49-billion in 2021/22.

Meanwhile, gold export earnings are forecast at A$29-billion in 2021/22, before a decline to A$28-billion in 2022/23, as gold prices ease back.

Labour and skill shortages are affecting Australia’s gold mine production, which is estimated to reach 332 t in 2020/21. Production from new mines and existing mine expansions is expected to boost gold mine production to 388 t in 2022/23 Copper prices hit a record high in May, but the price is expected to moderate over the outlook period.

Australian copper export earnings are forecast to reach A$13-billion in 2021/22, up from A$10-billion in 2019/20. Australia’s copper export volumes are expected to be moderate over the outlook period, from 924 000 t in 2020/21 to around 909 000 t in 2022/23.

Australian nickel exports are forecast to rise from an estimated 197 000 t in 2020/21 to around 251 000 t in 2022/23. Export earnings, supported by higher world prices, are forecast to rise to A$4.6-billion in 2022/23, up from A$3.8-billion in 2019/20.