PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Despite the restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, Australian resource exports are expected to reach a record A$296-billion in 2020/21, and will remain strong over the next five years, the latest Resources and Energy Quarterly from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources has shown.
For 2021/20, export earnings are expected to reach A$255-billion.
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said the forecast result shows how well the resources sector has managed the challenges of the past year and just how important it remains to national economic success.
“Exports are forecast to earn a record $296-billion in 2020/21 and remain strong over the next five years, driven by ongoing demand for iron-ore and growth in technology-related commodities such as lithium, nickel and copper,” Pitt said.
“This report confirms the remarkable resilience and strength of Australia’s resources and energy sector. The industry has remained safe and reliable suppliers to domestic and global markets throughout the pandemic.
“The increasing demand for Australian commodities has allowed export earnings to overcome challenging conditions for the benefit of the Australian economy and Australian jobs.
“The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines presents an opportunity to bring the pandemic under control and boost global economic activity and further demand for Australian commodities.”
Pitt noted that iron-ore was benefitting from both high prices, as well as decades of investment, innovation and automation which had placed Australia at the forefront of the global iron-ore market.
Iron-ore export volumes are expected to grow from an estimated 852-million tonnes in 2019/20 to 915-million tonnes by 2021/22. This reflects the commencement of several new mines in Western Australia.
Australia’s iron-ore export values are estimated to have risen from A$78-billion in 2018/19 to A$103-billion in 2019/20, on the back of growing volumes, strong prices and a low Australian dollar. Falling prices are expected to push export earnings down to A$81-billion by 2021/22.
The outlook for coal has improved since the December Resource and Energy Quarterly and export revenue and volumes have recovered.
Exports of metallurgical coal, used in steel making, are forecast to rise from a low of 173-million tonnes in 2020/21 to reach 191-million tonnes by 2025/26, while revenue is forecast to fall to A$23-billion in 2020/21 from A$35-billion in 2019/20 owing to lower world prices, before recovering to A$31-billion by 2025/26.
Thermal coal exports fell marginally from 213-million tonnes in 2019/20 to 206-million tonnes in 2020/21, but are projected to rebound to 231-million tonnes by 2025/26.
Australia’s thermal coal exports are forecast to drop from an estimated A$20-billion in 2019/20 to A$16-billion in 2020/21, before a partial recovery to A$17-billion in 2021/22 driven by higher prices and export volumes.
Australian liquified natural gas (LNG) export earnings are forecast to fall from A$48-billion in 2019/20 to A$33-billion in 2020/21 owing to weaker global prices and demand, before recovering to around A$45-billion by 2025/26.
The report noted that the rapid expansion of Australia’s LNG capacity is coming to an end, and that Australia’s LNG exports reached an estimated 79-million tonnes in 2019/20, and are forecast to edge up to 80-million tonnes by 2021/22.
Meanwhile, exports of new technology-related commodities are set to surge over the next five years, with lithium exports set to rise more than five-fold in real terms, nickel expected to almost double, and copper set to increase by a third over the outlook period.
Australian lithium production is expected to fall from 208 000 t in 2019/20 to 146 000 t in 2021/22, after a sharp pullback in 2020/21 to 131 000 t owing to continued weakness in spodumene prices. After falling from A$1-billion in 2019/20 to A$0.6-billion in 2020/21, Australian lithium export earnings are forecast to partly recover to A$0.7-billion by 2021/22.
Nickel export volumes are expected to lift to 282 000 t in 2019/20, to around 374 000 t in 2021/22, and export earnings from nickel are forecast to strengthen, reaching $6.8-billion in 2021/22, up from the A$4.3-billion in 2019/20.
Australia’s copper exports are forecast to rise from an estimated 925 000 t in 2019/20 to around 966 000 t in 2021/22 (in metal content terms), as output from existing mines expands and new mines start. As copper prices and export volumes rise, Australia’s export earnings are forecast to steadily lift, from an estimated A$9.6-billion in 2019/20 to A$9.9-billion by 2021/22.
Australia’s base metal exports are expected to grow over the short to medium term, as a rebound in global economic growth and industrial production increases the demand for Australia’s ferrous and non-ferrous metals.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts, the gold price is forecast to reach an eight-year high, averaging about $1 630/oz in 2020. An expected global economic rebound is projected to see the price slide to around $1 510/oz in 2022.
Australia’s gold mine production is forecast to reach a peak of 381 t in 2021/22, as high prices encourage an expansion in production. The value of Australia’s gold exports is forecast to reach a record A$32-billion in 2020/21, driven by higher prices and export volumes, before declining to A$30-billion in 2021/22, as gold prices ease back.