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Foundry Daily News

07. January 2008

Chinese and Indians – the new fighters for base and ferrous metals supplies

As metals supplies become scarcer, while industrialisation continues to grow at high rates in the big Eastern economies, it is becoming apparent that projects hitherto the prerogative of western mining and metals companies are falling to the Chinese and Indians.

The cowboys are way out of their depth nowadays and no doubt will be sticking to the new commodities investment hotspot of agribusiness and food supply, but in base metals and ferrous metals it is now the Chinese, and latterly the Indians, who are calling the tune in investing in developing world mineral deposits to protect future supplies for their ever-growing industrialised economies.

Over the past few days it has been the gold price which has been in the limelight as it has powered to new highs - although in real currency terms still well off its 1980 level.  But, almost unnoticed, base metals prices have been creeping up in the New Year too and with double digit growth seemingly continuing in two of the world's fastest growing economies, China and India, the portents are strong for these and also perhaps even more so for the largely steel sector-dependent metals like manganese, molbdenum, chromium, nickel, cobalt, titanium and not least, for iron ore itself.

Indeed it could well be iron and steel, not gold or copper, which become the main driving forces for mining in 2008 and beyond.  Gold, as far as the mining sector itself is concerned is perhaps a bit of a side-show - important for those involved, but not having a great impact on general industrial and mining growth, although it does have the capability of substantially stimulating exploration activity.

It also cannot have gone unnoticed by the mining community, that the Chinese in particular, and more latterly Indian concerns, have been in the forefront of pouring money into developing ferrous and base metals projects in order to secure supplies well into the future.  Indeed in many developing areas of the world the western mining companies are finding themselves outgunned financially by sometimes state-sponsored steel and mining concerns from these two countries.

Security of metals supplies may indeed be off the radar of most western governments and private sector companies have to make their bids for new deposits on strictly commercial grounds as they have to keep their shareholders on side which can put them at a disadvantage bidding against some of their eastern rivals. 

There is also an indication that for China in particular, the government is extremely supportive of its mining concerns and it is part of its foreign policy to cement its ties with some key countries through foreign aid programmes, and here the concentration appears to be on those which may have something to offer in return - like access to major mineral deposits.

Gone are the days of economic dominance by the West - we may well be entering a phase in world economics where countries like China and India will be calling the tune in exploration and development activities worldwide.  Few western companies have the financial muscle to outgun the big Chinese and Indian steel companies and base metals consumers nowadays - another factor stimulating the merger and acquisitions activity in the West which is resulting in fewer, but much larger, mining corporations of the size necessary to compete in the new order.

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