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Recent record-high prices have seen the Office of the Chief Economist revise up Australia’s expected copper export earnings by $2 billion for this financial year.

Copper export earnings are forecast to reach $12 billion in 2020–21, 18 per cent higher than the previous year, as prices surge.

The post-COVID global economic recovery and rising investment in low-emissions technologies are expected to push copper prices up to an average $US8260 a tonne in 2021, the latest Resources and Energy Quarterly report stated.

And it projects a rise in Australian exports from from 924,000 tonnes in 2019–20 to around 992,000 tonnes in 2025–26, driven by growing production from new and existing mines.

By that point, prices are expected to have stabilised around a projected $US7940 a tonne (in real terms).

As prices and output grow, Australia’s copper export earnings are projected to lift from $10 billion in 2019–20 to $16 billion (in real terms) in 2025–26, up an average 7 per cent a year.

The worldwide energy transition towards low emissions technologies is expected to positively impact copper consumption over the outlook period.

BloombergNEF forecasts that copper used in EV vehicles, batteries and chargers could account for as much as 10 per cent of world refined production by 2030.

While this growth is significant, trends in traditional uses of copper will be the strongest driver of consumption activity going forward, the government report states. As such, a more subdued economic recovery, particularly in major consuming countries like China, pose a risk to this outlook.

Mine production is expected to fall in 2020–21, as Hillgrove Resources’ Kanmantoo mine (South Australia) and Panoramic Resources’ Savannah mine (Western Australia) ceased operations in early 2020.

From 2020–21, mine production is expected to increase gradually to reach a projected 969,000 tonnes in 2025–26, up an average 1.2 per cent a year on 903,000 tonnes in 2019–20.

This growth in production is expected to come from a number of development projects, including new projects and expansions. The pace and extent of project development will depend on the improving strength of world prices, the the Office of the Chief Economist states.

New projects expected to come online over the outlook period include Rex Minerals’ Hillside project (South Australia), KGL Resources’ Jervois mine (Northern Territory), and Copper Mountain Mining’s Eva project in North West Queensland.

After recording 420,000 tonnes of refined copper production in 2019–20, Australia’s refinery production is expected to stabilise over the short-term.

Re-bricking is expected to take place at Glencore’s Mount Isa smelter in 2021, and a recent grant will continue its Townsville and Mount Isa processing operations until 2025. Refined production across Australia is projected to be 298,000 tonnes in 2025–26.


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