China became a net importer of fluorspar in 2018, having
previously been a net exporter. Imports of acidspar rose by an
average of 40,000 tonnes per year between 2018 and 2020, from
90,992 tonnes in 2018 to 170,688 tonnes in 2020, China Customs
Acidspar imports to China in January-April 2021 reached
68,497 tonnes, compared with 33,859 tonnes in the same period
Export volumes, however, fell from 201,950 tonnes in 2018 to
190,650 tonnes in 2019, and then slumped to 70,702 tonnes in
In the first four months of 2021, total acidspar exports
were 16,271 tonnes, down 10.26% from 18,132 tonnes in
Though China remains the world’s major
fluorspar producing country, downstream buyers –
especially in the hydrofluoric acid (HF) sector – have
shown increasing interest in importing materials and in seeking
to bring international supply into China.
Mexico was the main supplier of fluorspar acidspar to China
in 2020, accounting for 152,883 tonnes, or 89.60%, of total
imports of acid-grade fluorspar. The remaining imports were
primarily from South Africa and Vietnam. In 2021, both Vietnam
and South Africa are increasing their shipping volume to China,
with competitive prices.
In January-April 2021, the three leading countries shipping
fluorspar acidspar to China were Mexico (24,102 tonnes),
Vietnam (21,775 tonnes) and South Africa (18,465 tonnes), which
accounted for 93.93% of total imports. Imports from Mexico fell
27.31% compared to the same period in 2020.
There were no imports from Vietnam and South Africa in
January-April 2020. South Africa sent no acidspar to China in
2019 and only 1,151 tonnes in 2020.
China remains the largest producer of fluorspar globally.
The country produced 4.30 million tonnes of acidspar and
metspar in 2020, much more than Mexico (1.20 million tonnes),
South Africa (320,000 tonnes) and Vietnam (240,000 tonnes),
according to United States Geological Survey (USGS) data.
Growing demand from China’s downstream markets,
combined with a low appetite for acidspar in the rest of the
world due to Covid-19 and cheaper prices outside China, are
behind the growing imports for acidspar, sources said. While
Chinese end markets for acidspar have been extremely active,
demand has been weaker in other acidspar-consuming hubs,
Fastmarkets’ assessment of fluorspar, acidspar,
97% CaF2, wet filtercake, fob China was at $390-420 per tonne
on May 27, unchanged from the previous week, but a fall from
$390-430 per tonne on May 13.
Fastmarkets’ price for fluorspar, acidspar, 97%
CaF2, wet filtercake, fob Tampico, Mexico was at $280-320 per
tonne on May 27, down from $300-350 per tonne in April.
"China continues to be a net importer of acidspar and, based
on China’s high demand, the situation will
continue. I didn’t see any significant improvement
in demand from the downstream sector in Europe or the United
States," a distributor said.
"We purchase fluorspar acidspar from Chinese suppliers and
we also purchase from Mexico and South Africa to guarantee our
production. Imports from Mexico and South Africa are cheaper,
with prices below $300 per tonne, compared with prices of
around $400 per tonne in China," a buyer said.
South Africa has produced 100,000 tonnes more material in
2020 compared with 2019, according to USGS data. South Africa
has a new fluorspar producer, Sepfluor, which owns a
200,000-tonne-per-year capacity mine and began shipping in
Regulatory developments have contributed to the boost in
China’s downstream fluorspar consumption, sources
The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol was drawn up
in 2016 has been so far signed by around 120 countries. Its
inception has signaled a phasing down of hydrofluorocarbons
(HFCs). HFCs are primarily used as refrigerants and if released
into the atmosphere the products can deplete the ozone
If China signs the amendment, it will be committed to
reducing its production and consumption of HFCs by 80% by 2045.
"China is running flat out on HFC production and that level
will set the baseline for the reductions starting in 2030.
China wants to produce as much as possible to get the highest
quota," a fluorochemical producer said. The incentive is to
have as large a quota as possible and then have the option to
reduce production from that level, the producer added.
This is affecting the global downstream market, where
Chinese fluorochemical producers look to sell their products,
Fastmarkets heard. "[China’s HFC production] is
affecting us in a few ways, primarily because the Chinese have
reduced their fluoro-product prices. Chlorofluorocarbon prices
are much lower this year and we have to compete on the
international market," an Indian consumer said.
"Margins are affected but once you’re in the
market and have capacity, you have to operate even if margins
are reduced," the same consumer source added. The volume of
material entering India from South Africa in 2021 was at a
similar level to 2020, the Indian market source told
Covid-19 has weakened global demand for acidspar and several
producers outside of China are still not sold out for 2021,
"Most orders are from Asian buyers because demand from
Europe and the US remains curbed due to the impact of Covid-19
and high freight fees," a Chinese fluorspar producer
"Asian buyers, especially from Japan and South Korea,
usually require more expensive specific fluorspar acidspar with
higher quality due to most high-quality downstream products
produced there," the producer added.
"We don’t expect significant improvement in the
export sector for fluorspar acidspar and overseas demand will
not recover much in 2021," a trader said.
This helps to explain why fluorspar suppliers outside of
China are now shipping into the country, sources said.
Mexico has been visible in the Chinese market for a few years,
but Vietnam and South Africa have not been regular supplies to
China, Fastmarkets learned from China’s custom
"My impression is that in the fourth quarter of 2020, when
the fluorspar contracts for 2021 closed in Europe and North
America, outlook for demand was very doubtful and stock levels
both at the mines and at end users was high," a fluorochemical
producer said. "It is quite probable that some miners were left
with high volumes to sell so the hypothesis that
they’re trying to sell these in China sounds
India lowers dependency on China
Falling demand from India has also hit Chinese exports,
sources told Fastmarkets.
In past years, India had been a key destination for exports,
but Indian demand has fallen after the country increased its
purchases from other global suppliers to guarantee a
sustainable supply, market participants said.
Since the China-India border clash in July 2020, and demand
weakened amid the Covid-19 pandemic, exports to India from
China fell to 8,946 tonnes in 2020 from 48,167 tonnes in 2019
and 57,379 tonnes in 2018, China’s official
customs data showed.
The China-India border clash began on June 15, 2020 in
Ladakh, in northeastern Kashmir. Its impact has spilled over
into fluorspar trading between China and India, causing reduced
demand for the material.
"Some [Indian] customers purchased more material from
producers outside of China and will only buy material from
China on emergent need considering the shorter distance to
India compared to other global sellers," a producer said.
"Though consumers in India are trying to reduce their
dependence on China’s fluorspar, they sometimes
purchase material, and in recent weeks they have been sending
inquiries but haven’t placed final orders yet," a
second producer said.