Which country holds the top copper reserves in the world? Chile, Australia, Peru, Russia and Indonesia make the list.
Investors often forget to consider how much economically mineable copper there is, which is an important factor in understanding the dynamics of supply and demand in the industry.
The term peak copper was coined because some experts believe that copper reserves may be diminishing, and it’s prudent to know the top copper reserves when considering investment options in the mining industry.
Currently known worldwide copper ore resources are estimated at nearly 5.8 trillion pounds, of which only about 0.7 trillion pounds, or 12 percent, have been mined throughout history. Nearly all of that is still in circulation, as copper’s recycling rate is higher than that of any other engineering metal.
With that in mind, what are the biggest copper reserves by country? According to the most recent data from the US Geological Survey, the heavy hitters are Chile, Australia, Peru, Russia and Indonesia.
Copper reserves: 170 million MT
Chile has the largest copper reserves of any country by far, with 170 million MT as of 2018. That is nearly twice the reserves of neighboring Peru, the second largest copper producer. The country’s reserves guarantee copper production for roughly the next 100 years at the current extraction rate.
Chile is also the world’s largest copper producer, having produced some 5.8 million MT of copper from mines in 2018. Copper plays a significant role in the Chilean economy, with an estimated 20 percent of the nation’s GDP attributed to copper production. The steady rise in copper prices has made Chile’s economy one of the strongest and most robust in Latin America.
Copper reserves: 88 million MT
Australia has the second largest copper reserves in the world next to Chile with 88 million MT, or around 13 percent of global reserves.
According to the Australian government’s copper fact sheet, Australia’s copper resources are largely at the Olympic Dam copper-uranium–gold deposit in South Australia and at the Mount Isa copper-lead–zinc deposit in Queensland.
Other important copper resources in the country are at the Northparkes copper-gold, CSA copper-lead-zinc and Girilambone copper deposits in New South Wales; the Ernest Henry, Osborne and Mammoth copper and copper-gold deposits at Selwyn in Queensland; the copper-zinc deposits at Golden Grove; and the Nifty copper deposit in Western Australia.
Copper reserves: 83 million MT
Peru holds 83 million MT, or 13 percent, of the world’s copper reserves, and in 2018 the country maintained its position as the second largest producer, with national output of 2.4 million MT.
Peru’s largest copper reserves can be found at the Antamina, Toquepala, Cerro Verde, Cuajone and Tintaya mines. The Antamina mine in Ancash is operated by Antamina, a joint venture owned by BHP, Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLNCY), Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.B,NYSE:TECK) and Mitsubishi (OTC Pink:MSBHY,TSE:8306).
Copper reserves: 61 million MT
Though the country isn’t particularly known for its copper production, Russia’s status in terms of copper reserves makes it a top global competitor. Reserves from the major nation are docketed at 61 million MT, though 2018 production was low, at just 710,000 MT.
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 last year when it was revealed that Baikal was looking to raise US$1.25 billion to develop a mining and metallurgical plant at the project, which is now under construction. Udokan alone hosts total reserves of 26.7 million tonnes of copper.
Copper reserves: 51 million MT
While Indonesia has been hyping up nickel to become one of its major exports, the Southeast Asian nation also has a strong presence in copper reserves. The country comes in as the fifth largest on this list at reserves of 51,000 million MT.
Indonesia’s numbers have also grown on the production side; in 2017, the country produced 622,000 MT, while that number reached 780,000 MT by 2018.
The country is home to Grasberg, the largest gold mine in the world and the second largest copper mine. Located in Indonesia’s Papua province, the massive asset was acquired by state-controlled company Inalum in December 2018 in a US$3.85 billion deal with Freeport and former joint venture partner Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,NYSE:RIO,LSE:RIO) following an official announcement in late September.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Olivia Da Silva, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.