China’s bauxite and fused alumina exports climb

By Sybil Pan
Published: Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Chinese exports of refractory-grade bauxite increased by 51.58% year on year in the first seven months of 2021, while shipments of white and brown fused alumina (WFA, BFA) rose by 52.37% and 26.34% respectively over the same period.

According to Chinese customs data, China’s shipments of bauxite (HS code 25083000) in January-July 2021 surged to 554,510 tonnes from 365,812 tonnes a year earlier, Chinese customs data showed. The major importers of China’s bauxite were the Netherlands (128,722 tonnes), Japan (86,152 tonnes), India (78,517 tonnes), the United States (50,810 tonnes) and Taiwan (29,377 tonnes).

Total exports of bauxite to the Netherlands showed a jump of 255.73% from 36,185 tonnes in January-July 2020. Shipments to the US rose by 171.48%, to India by 108.42%, to Taiwan by 29.33% and to Japan by 15.04%.

Meanwhile, export volumes of WFA (HS code 28181090) from China jumped by 52.37% year on year in January-July to 212,863 tonnes compared with 139,706 tonnes a year earlier. The five principal destinations for this material were Japan (37,881 tonnes), India (32,688 tonnes), the Netherlands (20,688 tonnes), South Korea (19,945 tonnes) and the US (15,833 tonnes).

Shipments to major destinations all showed significant increases in the first seven months of the year. Shipments to the Netherlands soared by 240.60%, to India by 105.97%, to Japan by 60.79%, to the US by 40.46% and to South Korea by 40.21%.

Similarly, China’s exports of BFA (HS Code: 28181010) totaled 286,717 tonnes in January-July, up by 26.34% from a year earlier when exports were 226,935 tonnes, according to Chinese customs data.

Major importers of China’s BFA during the period were Japan (47,036 tonnes), the US (36,012 tonnes), India (24,188 tonnes), the Netherlands (23,003 tonnes) and South Korea (21,563 tonnes). Total shipments to the Netherlands surged by 367.92% in the first seven months, while those to India rose by 125.28%. Shipments to Japan increased by 22.51% and those to South Korea by 17.01%.

Solid demand
The rapid growth in China’s bauxite and fused alumina exports in the first seven months of this year could be attributed to solid demand led by operational recoveries in major consuming markets such as Europe, India and the US, according to sources.

Crude steel output in the European Union reached 90.8 million tonnes in January-July, up by 20.1% from a year earlier, while India’s output stood at 68 million tonnes over the same period, up by 28.7% against the corresponding period of last year, according to World Steel Association data.

Given that bauxite and fused alumina are major upstream materials for refractories used in the steelmaking sector, the robust growth in crude steel output boosted demand, according to a bauxite producer source in China. "We shipped large volumes of bauxite and fused alumina in bulk shipments last month. I heard that there were about three bulk carriers loaded with bauxite and fused alumina, most of which was [headed to] European markets," the same source added.

Adding to the strong shipment volumes could be buyers’ concern over short-term supply and shipment delays affecting Chinese bauxite and fused alumina, resulting from the global logistics bottlenecks and production interruptions in the East Asian country, Fastmarkets understands. Soaring freight costs, shipment delays and port congestion continued to weigh on international exports.

Supply-side risks
In terms of supply, China’s bauxite and fused alumina were at risk of tighter availability considering events in major production regions such as Shanxi province for bauxite and Henan and Shandong provinces for fused alumina, according to sources.

"While refractory-grade bauxite is in a supply-demand balance at the moment, with relatively ample inventory, the outlook is uncertain if you factor in the [likely disruption because of the] Winter Olympics and the traditional winter halt [of production] in Shanxi province," a second producer in China told Fastmarkets. "We have received a notice requiring [that we initiate] staggered operations from September, as a matter of fact."

Elsewhere, production of both BFA and WFA is still under the threat of low operation rates in major production hubs in Henan and Shandong provinces, as well as Guizhou, due to power shortages, increasing costs, and in some areas, the resurgence of Covid-19 infections.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for bauxite, refractory-grade, 85%/2.0/3.15-3.2 (0-6mm), fob Xingang, was $420-430 per tonne on August 19, narrowing downward by $10 per tonne against the price at the start of the year.

Meanwhile, Fastmarkets’ fortnightly price assessment for alumina, fused brown, min 95% Al2O3, refractory sized (0-6mm), fob China, was $750-770 per tonne on August 19, up by 10.95% at the mid-point from the start of 2021.

And the assessment for alumina, fused white, 25kg bags, cif Europe, was €720-830 ($846-975) per tonne, up by 13.14% against the start of the year.