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UPDATE: Rio Tinto Copper CEO Eyes Tight Supply Over Next Decade
May 18,2010 09:13CST
industry news

LONDON, May 17, 2010 (Dow Jones Commodities News via Comtex) -- The medium- to long-term outlook for copper is positive with a tight supply situation expected over the next decade, the head Rio Tinto's copper division said Monday.

The "outlook for copper is positive...demand will be driven by China...India will also contribute," Rio Tinto Copper Chief Executive Andrew Harding said at the World Mining Investment Congress here.

Harding noted demand will outstrip supply in the forseeable future as miners struggle to extract more ore from mature projects and deal with constraints such as limited water, declining ore grades and unexpected events such as earthquakes.

Sovereign risk is also likely to become a bigger issue as production "shifts to emerging parts of the world," Harding said.

At the moment 60% of all copper production comes from five nations--China, Peru, the U.S., Chile and Indonesia.

By 2020, 44% of new capacity will come from non-Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries, Harding said, compared with 30% now, and the traditional top five producing nations will account for less than half of the new projects, Harding said.

"Assuming a cumulative annual growth rate in demand of 3%, the gap between current supply and anticipated demand in 2020 will be around 6 million tons--or roughly the equivalent of six Escondida mines," he said, referring to world's largest copper mine.

"However, with a growth rate of 5%, which is probably the upper end of industry forecasts, the anticipated gap increases to 10 million tons. To fill this gap, we would have to effectively increase mined supply by the equivalent of Escondida's entire annual production every year for the next decade," Harding added. Rio Tinto owns a 30% stake in the Chilean Escondida mine.

Rio Tinto is planning for the future by investing in four greenfield projects--Resolution in Arizona, La Granja in Peru, Pebble in Alaska and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia.

The Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper project is forecast to be the first to start producing, Harding said. It is expected to produce 450,000 metric tons of copper a year over more than 50 years, placing it among the top 10 global copper mines in the world, he said.

The challenge of the future will be to extract copper from deeper underground while keeping costs down, Harding said.

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