Here’s a look at top copper production by country in 2020, as reported by the US Geological Survey. Chile took the top spot once again.
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Copper reached a record high in the first half of 2021 before falling back slightly as the coronavirus pandemic continued to hit all markets around the world.
For investors interested in the red metal, it’s worth looking at copper production by country. According to the latest US Geological Survey data, global copper production reached 20 million metric tons (MT) in 2020.
But which country took the crown to become the top copper producer last year?
Chile took the top spot again, although some of the others on the list may surprise you. Read on to find out which nations made the grade and what’s driving their copper output.
Mine production: 5.7 million MT
Copper production in Chile declined slightly between 2019 and 2020, landing at 5.7 million MT last year.
Despite COVID-19, copper-mining companies, including state-owned Codelco, BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BHP), Anglo American (LSE:AAL,OTCQX:AAUKF), Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF) and Antofagasta (LSE:ANTO,OTC Pink:ANFGF), have kept churning out copper. However, the country has been one of the hardest-hit Latin American nations in terms of the virus.
Mine production: 2.2 million MT
Peruvian copper production declined year-on-year, dropping from 2019’s total of 2.46 million MT to 2.2 million MT in 2020. The main copper operations in Peru include Anglo American’s Quellaveco mine and Southern Copper’s (NYSE:SCCO) Tia Maria mine.
The majority of copper produced in the country is shipped to China, followed by Japan, South Korea and Germany, among others. Copper output in the country grew more than 97 percent from 2008 to 2019, but 2020 told a different story.
The pandemic hit copper production in the country, bringing output down 20.4 percent in the first half of 2020 versus the same period in 2019, as the government implemented strict measures to contain the virus. Copper miners resumed operations in June.
Mine production: 1.7 million MT
China, the world’s largest copper consumer, remained in third place for production in 2020. Its output increased slightly last year, rising from 1.68 million MT in 2019.
It’s worth mentioning that the trade war between the US and China has meant high tariffs for Chinese exports. At the start of 2020, the promise of a phase one deal brought renewed strength the copper market, and in May US copper concentrate was once again entering China’s ports.
4. Democratic Republic of Congo
Mine production: 1.3 million MT
Copper production from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last year remained relatively flat. Production rates ticked up a notch from 2019’s 1.29 million MT to 1.3 million MT in 2020.
One major copper asset on the rise in the DRC is Ivanhoe Mines’ (TSX:IVN,OTCQX:IVPAF) Kamoa-Kakula project, a joint venture the company shares with partner Zijin Mining Group.
5. United States
Mine production: 1.2 million MT
Taking fifth place in terms of copper production by country is the US, which saw its copper output decline marginally in 2020, sinking from 1.26 million MT in 2019. According to the US Geological Survey, the decrease was due to reduced output from the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah (lower grades) and the Chino mine in New Mexico (COVID-19 suspended operations).
Most of the country’s production comes from Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Michigan and Missouri; 18 of 25 mines account for 99 percent of the country’s mine production.
One of the US’ biggest copper assets is the Bingham Canyon copper mine, part of Rio Tinto’s (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO) Kennecott operations.
The US also ranks among the top five exporters of copper into the global market, mainly in the form of ores and concentrates, but also as refined copper. China is a major importer of US copper, and the recent trade war between the two countries has had a significant impact on worldwide copper trade. The trade war mentioned above also of course affects the US.
Mine production: 870,000 MT
Coming in under the 1 million MT mark is Australia, whose copper production declined from 934,000 MT in 2019 to reach a total of 870,000 MT in 2020.
One of Australia’s largest copper operations is BHP’s Olympic Dam copper-uranium–gold deposit in South Australia; while the asset is more known for its uranium production, it maintains a strong stance as the fourth largest copper deposit in the world.
Also worth noting is Queensland’s Mount Isa, run by a subsidiary of Glencore. It is one of Australia’s largest copper producers, and the two copper mines that operate out of Mount Isa collectively process 6.5 million tonnes of ore each year.
Mine production: 850,000 MT
Jumping from ninth to seventh on the list of top copper-producing countries, Russia’s copper production increased in 2020, up from 801,000 MT in 2019.
One of the biggest copper operations in Russia is the Udokan deposit in Siberia, which is currently owned by Udokan Copper (previously Baikal Mining Company). The deposit made headlines in 2018 when it was revealed that Baikal was looking to raise US$1.25 billion to develop a mining and metallurgical plant at the project. It is now under construction and expected to come online in early 2022.
Mine production: 830,000 MT
Copper production climbed last year in Zambia, which is eighth in terms of copper production by country. Its 2020 rate of 830,000 MT was up from 2019’s production of 797,000 MT.
There are four major mines that dominate the country’s copper production. These include Barrick Gold’s (TSX:ABX,NYSE:GOLD) Lumwana, First Quantum Minerals’ (TSX:FM,OTC Pink:FQVLF) Kansanshi, Mopani Copper Mines (majority owned by Glencore) and Konkola Copper Mines, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources (NYSE:VEDL).
The Zambian government recently announced it will take complete ownership of Mopani Copper Mines (in which it had a 10 percent stake).
Mine production: 690,000 MT
Coming in ninth place is Mexico, whose copper production rate shimmied lower in 2020 to reach 690,000 MT from 2019’s total of 715,000 MT.
One of the biggest copper mines in Mexico is Grupo Mexico’s (BMV:GMEXICOB) Buenavista del Cobre operation in Sonora, by far the country’s largest copper-producing state.
Mine production: 580,000 MT
Kazakhstan achieved a fairly large step in production growth when its copper output rose from 603,000 MT in 2018 to 700,000 MT in 2019. However, those gains were erased and then some when the nation’s copper production fell to just 580,000 MT in 2020.
Kaz Minerals (LSE:KAZ) accounts for a large part of Kazakhstan’s metal production. The company is working on expanding Aktogay mine to double its processing capacity, and this is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.