Here’s a look at top copper production by country in 2019, as reported by the US Geological Survey. Chile took the top spot once again.
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So far in 2020, the price of copper has faced highs and lows on the back of the coronavirus pandemic that has 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 2019.
Which country was the top copper producer in 2019? 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.
Mine production: 5.6 million MT
Copper production in Chile declined between 2018 and 2019, landing at a total rate of 5.6 million MT last year. Even so, Chile was on top for copper production by country.
Falling ore grades at large deposits, water scarcity and operational issues were the main issues that hit copper production in the South American country in 2019.
This year, despite COVID-19, copper-mining companies, including state-owned Codelco, BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT), Anglo American (LSE:AAL), Glencore (LSE:GLEN) and Antofagasta (LSE:ANTO), have been churning out more copper than they did the year before. But many believe the country will not be able to maintain these levels with reduced staff and spiking contagions — Chile is one of the hardest-hit Latin American nations in terms of the virus.
Mine production: 2.4 million MT
Peruvian copper production saw a slight drop in 2019 as it reached 2.4 million MT, down from 2018’s total of 2.44 million MT. The main copper operations in Peru include Anglo American’s (LSE:AAL,OTCQX:NGLOY) 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 has grown more than 97 percent from 2008 to 2019, but 2020 has told a different story so far.
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: 1.6 million MT
China, the world’s largest copper consumer, remained in third place for production in 2019. Its production increased slightly last year, this time coming in at 1.6 million MT.
It’s worth mentioning that the trade war between the US and China, which at the start of 2020 seemed to be on track to reach a phase one deal, has meant high tariffs for Chinese exports. Some reports claim that manufacturing work, which requires copper, has been cooling as a result.
4. Democratic Republic of Congo
Mine production: 1.3 million MT
Stepping up its copper production last year was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Production rates grew from 2018’s 1.23 million MT to 1.3 million MT in 2019.
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: 1.3 million MT
Tying for fourth place in copper production by country is the US, which saw its copper output increase in 2019 as it jumped from 1.22 million MT to 1.3 million MT. According to the US Geological Survey, the increase was due to higher ore grades and higher mining and milling rates at several operations.
Most of the country’s production comes from Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Michigan and Missouri; 15 of the 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 trade war mentioned above also of course affects the US. With China being a major consumer of the red metal, these tensions could mean that the US will cool its own copper production if it doesn’t have enough buyers. It is currently too early to tell how this situation may play out.
Mine production: 960,000 MT
Coming in just under the 1 million MT mark is Australia, whose copper production leaped from 920,000 MT in 2018 to 960,000 MT in 2019.
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 (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLNCY). 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: 790,000 MT
Copper production last year plunged in Zambia, which is seventh in terms of copper production by country. Its 2019 rate of 790,000 MT fell from 2018’s production of 854,000 MT.
According to Mining for Zambia — an initiative run through Zambia’s Chamber of Mines — 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).
These mines account for approximately 80 percent of the country’s yearly copper production.
Mine production: 770,000 MT
Coming in at eighth place is Mexico, whose copper production rate shimmied higher in 2019 to reach 770,000 MT, showing a small jump from 2018’s total of 751,000 MT.
One of the biggest copper mines in Mexico is Grupo Mexico’s (BMV:GMEXICOB) Buenavista del Cobre operation in Sonora, also referred to as Cananea. It has been in operation since 1899 and has an estimated copper reserve of almost 27 million MT.
Mine production: 750,000 MT
Russia’s copper production remained almost neutral at 750,000 MT in 2019, up only 1,000 MT from 2018.
One of the biggest copper operations in Russia is the Udokan deposit in Siberia, which is currently owned by 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.
Mine production: 700,000 MT
Making incremental production growth from 2018 and rounding out the list of copper production by country is Kazakhstan, whose copper output rose from 603,000 MT in 2018 to 700,000 MT last year.
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, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.