Here’s a look at top copper production by country in 2021, as reported by the US Geological Survey. Chile took the top spot once again.
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 21 million metric tons (MT) in 2021.
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 each country's copper output.
Mine production: 5.6 million MT
Copper production in Chile declined slightly between 2020 and 2021, landing at 5.6 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. For 2021, Chile's major producer production was hampered by lower feed grades.
However, Chile’s copper production is expected to achieve 4.7 percent annual growth in 2022 to hit more than 5.89 million MT as new mines ramp up their output. According to a report by Mining Technology, the nation’s copper production should grow at a CAGR of 2.2 percent between 2022 and 2026 to reach more than 6.43 million MT as new projects come online.
Mine production: 2.2 million MT
Peruvian copper production was up marginally year-on-year, ticking up 50,000 MT from the previous year. 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 and 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.
Despite social unrest affecting the mining sector, Peruvian copper production still managed to rebound from the COVID-induced lows. That trend is continuing in 2022, with the Ministry of Energy and Mines of Peru reporting that copper production in June 2022 rose by 8.6 percent compared to June 2021 production.
3. China and Democratic Republic of Congo
Mine production: 1.8 million MT
China, the world’s largest copper consumer, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) tied for third place for global copper production in 2021. China's output increased slightly last year, rising from 1.72 million MT in 2020.
Copper production from the DRC rose by 200,000 MT from 2020 levels to match China at 1.8 million MT for 2021. 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.
4. United States
Mine production: 1.2 million MT
Taking fourth place in terms of copper production by country is the United States, which saw its copper output remain flat in 2021. According to the US Geological Survey, while production increased at several domestic copper mines, those gains were offset by significant decreases in output at several major mines in Arizona.
Most of the country’s production comes from Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Michigan and Missouri; 19 of the 25 mines that processed copper accounted 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 10 exporters of copper into the global market, mainly in the form of ores and concentrates, but also as refined copper.
Mine production: 900,000 MT
Coming in under the 1 million MT mark is Australia, whose copper production increased from 885,000 MT in 2020 to reach a total of 900,000 MT in 2021.
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 complex 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 MT of ore each year.
Mine production: 830,000 MT
Copper production fell last year in Zambia, which ranks sixth in terms of copper production by country. Its 2021 rate of 830,000 MT was down from 2020’s production of 853,000 MT. There are four major mines that dominate the country’s copper production, including Barrick Gold’s (TSX:ABX,NYSE:GOLD) Lumwana, First Quantum Minerals’ (TSX:FM,OTC Pink:FQVLF) Kansanshi and Konkola Copper Mines, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources (NYSE:VEDL). The Zambian government recently took complete ownership of Mopani Copper Mines (in which it had a 10 percent stake) from Glencore.
Mine production: 820,000 MT
Falling from sixth to seventh on the list of top copper-producing countries, Russia’s copper production increased in 2021, up from 810,000 MT in 2020.
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 2027.
Mine production: 810,000 MT
Indonesia's copper production increased dramatically from 505,000 MT in 2020 to reach a total of 810,000 MT in 2021.
The country's largest copper mine is the Grasberg Block Cave Mine located in Papua. In 2021, the underground mine produced an estimated 295,500 MT of the red metal. The mine is expected to operate until 2041.
Mine production: 720,000 MT
Coming in ninth place is Mexico, whose copper production rate shimmied lower in 2021 to reach 720,000 MT from 2020’s total of 733,000 MT.
One of the biggest copper mines in Mexico is Grupo Mexico’s (BMV:GMEXICOB) Buenavista del Cobre operation in Sonora, which is by far the country’s largest copper-producing state.
Mine production: 590,000 MT
Canada's copper output rose slightly from 585,000 MT in 2020 to 590,000 MT in 2021.
British Columbia is the country's largest producing province by far, followed by Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Manitoba.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
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