VANCOUVER, May 27 -- Over 180 delegates participated in ITRI's International Tin Conference held in Vancouver on 17 – 19 May, taking in a densely packed presentation programme and associated networking events.
Thirty speakers presented papers on production, consumption, investment, trade and regulations and there was a general up-beat sentiment about the current state of market fundamentals – although this was tempered by concerns about the possible negative impact of the Euro zone financial crisis.
Some key points and themes which came out were:
China continues to provide massive support to tin and other metals markets. The wider impact of the growth in Chinese consumption on metals was a key feature of the overview of metals provided by CRU's Phil Macoun. In tin China has rapidly transformed from large next exporter to a net importer, with supply increasingly constrained by raw materials availability, despite YTC's new mine project and increased recycling. There are also other big emerging economies, including India, with great potential to lift their per capita usage.
Tin consumption has bounced back in 2010. The key preliminary statistic emerging from the presentation by IPC's Tony Hilvers is that global solder shipments in the first quarter of 2010 were over 50% higher than the very depressed first quarter of 2009. However there are some concerns about tin use: there is a strong risk of substitution in PVC stabilisers and rapidly growing regulatory pressures on many applications.
Investment in new mine capacity is patchy. YTC, PT Timah, Minsur and Metals X all provided examples of substantial investments in future supply and some new producers (Silver Standard in Argentina, Syrymbet in Kazakhstan) could start up in the next two years. However most other projects discussed have not even reached feasibility study stage and junior mining companies clearly face considerable financing problems in the current climate. Meanwhile Najib Jaafar of MSC noted that production costs are rising and stated that SE Asian alluvial mine production could rise or fall plus or minus 20% in the next few years, depending on the market and regulatory environment.
Artisanal mining and "conflict minerals" remain in the spotlight. UK government and World Bank representative Jon Hobbs argued that artisanal and small scale mining – which accounts for a half of current tin mine supply – should be seen as a development opportunity and a means of breaking out of the poverty cycle if properly managed. Against this there is growing pressure from NGOs and governments to restrict supply from some sources, notably parts of the DR Congo. This session of the conference provided the liveliest debate, and was followed by a very constructive workshop session involving a full set of stakeholders in the electronics/IT industry supply chain.