Sterlite impasse irks ‘concentrate’ sellers

The closure of the Thoothukudi facility of Sterlite Copper has put global suppliers of copper concentrates in a spot, it is learnt.

In the wake of the Sterlite imbroglio, the international trading and supplier community is reportedly unsure of the wisdom of entering into long-term contractual obligations with Indian buyers who are primary copper producers.

Copper concentrate is a key raw material used to produce copper. India’s copper reserves are scarce and the mining is restricted only to Hindustan Copper, a public sector undertaking.

The PSU can cater to only 4% of the country’s total copper production. Sterlite Copper (which belongs to the Vedanta group) and Birla Copper (a division of Hindalco Industries of the Aditya Birla group) rely fully on imported copper concentrate for their requirements.

Copper concentrate is being imported from countries (with rich copper reserves) such as Chile, Indonesia, Australia, Peru, Canada and the like. Sterlite and Birla Copper together import around 2.5 million tonnes concentrate, it is gleaned.

‘No new reserves’

With increasing copper demand and no new reserves being identified, the global copper concentrates’ market is in a deficit situation, and there is fierce competition between copper smelters of India, China, Japan, South Korea and others to secure this strategically important raw material.

“Although India is among the top 10 exporters for refined copper, it imports 94% of the concentrate to feed its smelters,” said a report on India’s mining sector by LSI Financial Services. “This creates huge dependence on imports and also highlights the need for potential increase in copper mining capacity. The government is focussing on resolving the electricity supply shortages and raising heavy investments towards building power generation capacity in order to ensure all citizens have access to electricity, which will, in turn, boost the demand for copper in the medium-term.”

As concentrates are a strategic resource, majority of the sourcing is done through long-term tie-ups with global mining firms to ensure supply stability.

According to sources, India has become an important partner for supply of concentrates for global copper mines. Given this, the Sterlite imbroglio has reportedly taken global concentrate suppliers off guard.

One view is that they will now factor in this escalating concern while entering into long-term commitments with Indian buyers. Sources are worried that global mining firms could rework their India strategy should their concerns vis-a-vis long-term supplies persist.

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