What are the top iron-producing countries? Check out this list of nations by iron ore production to find out which led the way in 2021.
Iron ore prices displayed volatility in 2021, rising to record highs only to fall over 60 percent by year’s end.
Prices for the base metal reached a record high of over US$220 per tonne in May 2021, but it wasn't long before they declined to a low point of US$84.50 in November. Analysts have identified lower demand from China alongside rising supply levels as reasons why prices dropped in late 2021.
While iron ore prices had rebounded to the US$138 level as of mid-2022, spurred on by supply issues in Australia and Brazil, as well as the Russia-Ukraine war and higher export duties in India, there are still concerns that “slowing global growth will hit metals demand and limit the metal's upside momentum,” as per Trading Economics.
While supply worries out of the jurisdictions mentioned above have helped support iron ore prices, it’s important to know about other major producers of the commodity. As such, here are the 10 top iron-producing countries of 2021, using the latest data provided by the US Geological Survey.
Usable ore: 900 million metric tons (MT); iron content: 560 million MT
Australia is the largest country for iron ore mining; its usable iron ore output was 900 million MT in 2021. Australia’s leading iron ore producer is BHP (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BHP), but Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO) and Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG,OTCQX:FSUMF) are also big producers.
The Pilbara region is the most notable iron ore jurisdiction in Australia, if not the world. In fact, Rio Tinto calls its Pilbara Blend "the world’s most recognised brand of iron ore."
Usable ore: 380 million MT; iron content: 240 million MT
The second largest iron-producing country is Brazil, where usable iron ore production totaled 380 million MT in 2021. The largest iron ore districts in the country are the states of Pará and Minas Gerais, which together account for 98 percent of Brazil’s annual iron ore output.
Pará is home to the largest iron ore mine in the world, Vale’s (NYSE:VALE) Carajas mine. Headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, Vale is the world's biggest producer of iron ore pellets. Recent disruptions at Vale’s operations in Brazil due to heavy rain are expected to have an impact on iron ore prices in 2022.
Usable ore: 360 million MT; iron content: 220 million MT
China is the world’s largest consumer of iron ore, despite being only the third largest iron-producing country. Its production of usable ore in 2021 remained unchanged from the previous year.
With China being the world’s largest producer of stainless steel, its domestic supplies are not enough to meet demand. The country imports over 70 percent of global seaborne iron ore. However, China’s COVID-19 lockdowns are placing downward pressure on its economic activity, creating sluggish demand for imported iron ore.
Usable ore: 240 million MT; iron content: 150 million MT
India’s production of usable iron ore increased from 2020 to 2021, climbing from the previous year’s mark of 204 million MT to 240 million MT. Iron content production rose from 127 million MT to 150 million.
India’s largest iron ore miner, NMDC, hit a production milestone in 2021 of 40 million MT per year, the first such company to do so in the country. “Starting from 4 million tonnes in 1969-70, NMDC crossed 10 million tonnes in 1977-78, added another ten million by 2004-05, crossed 30 million tonnes within a decade and has now breached the 40 million mark,” the company said. NMDC is targeting an annual production rate of 100 million MT by 2030.
Usable ore: 100 million MT; iron content: 71 million MT
Russia comes in as the fifth largest iron-producing country in the world. Usable iron ore production remained unchanged from the previous year in 2021, while iron content inched up from 69.5 million MT to 71 million MT.
In 2022, Russia’s iron ore exports are in question as the world enacts serious economic sanctions on the country over its aggressive war against Ukraine. Together, these two countries account for 36 percent of global iron or non-alloy steel exports. The European Union (EU) has restricted imports of Russian iron ore.
Usable ore: 81 million MT; iron content: 51 million MT
Taking the number sixth spot is Ukraine, whose usable iron ore production in 2021 was 81 million MT, up from 78.8 million MT in 2020. The iron ore and steel industry accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s GDP.
Russia’s invasion is having a significant impact on Ukraine’s iron ore exports, on which the EU’s steel industry depends. “Many European steel producers relied on Ukraine for raw materials such as metallurgic coal and iron ore. Ferrexpo, the London-listed Ukrainian miner, is a major exporter of iron ore,” notes the Financial Times.
Usable ore: 68 million MT; iron content: 41 million MT
Coming in as the seventh largest iron-producing country, Canada’s production totaled 68 million MT of usable iron ore and 41 million MT of iron content in 2021, up from 60.1 million MT and 36.1 million MT in 2020, respectively.
Champion Iron (TSX:CIA,OTC Pink:CHPRF) is one company producing iron ore in the country. It owns and operates the Bloom Lake complex in Quebec. Champion ships iron concentrate from the Bloom Lake open pit by rail, initially on the Bloom Lake Railway, to a ship loading port in Sept-Îles, Quebec. A Phase 2 expansion is set to increase capacity from 7.4 million MT per year to 15 million MT per year of 66.2 percent iron ore concentrate.
Usable ore: 64 million MT; iron content: 13 million MT
Kazakhstan ranks as the eighth largest iron-producing country in the world. Usable iron ore production rose slightly from 62.9 million MT in the previous year to a record 64 million MT in 2021, while iron content inched up from 12.7 million MT to 13 million MT.
Kazakhstan has several iron ore mines in operation, with four of the top five owned by Eurasian Resources Group and one held by ArcelorMittal (NYSE:MT,AMS:MT). The Sokolov-Sarybai Mining Production Association (SMPA) in Northern Kazakhstan was the main supplier of iron ore to Russia’s Magnitogorsk Iron and Steelworks prior to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Since then, the SMPA has halted iron ore shipments to Magnitogorsk.
9. South Africa
Usable ore: 61 million MT; iron content: 39 million MT
South Africa’s usable iron ore production rose from 55.6 million MT to 61 million MT in 2021. The country’s iron ore content also jumped from 24.4 million MT to 39 million MT.
Kumba Iron Ore (OTC Pink:KUMBF,JSE:KIO) is Africa’s largest iron ore producer. The company has three main iron ore production assets in the country, including its flagship mine, Sishen, which accounts for a large majority of Kumba’s total iron ore output. Anglo American (LSE:AAL,OTCQX:AAUKF) owns a 69.7 percent share in the company.
Usable ore: 50 million MT; iron content: 33 million MT
The 10th largest iron-producing country is Iran, which in 2021 produced 50 million MT of usable iron ore and 33 million MT of iron content, up marginally from 49.5 million MT and 32.5 million MT.
The most important iron ore mines in the country include Gol-e-Gohar in Kerman province. The Iranian government is targeting production of 55 million MT of steel per annum by 2025 to 2026. To reach this goal, the country’s iron ore industry will need to produce 160 million MT of iron ore. To better meet the requirements of domestic steel producers, Iran began levying a 25 percent duty on iron ore exports in September 2019.
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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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