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Iron ore exports to hit a new low in FY13

Mahesh Kulkarni  |  Bangalore 

India’s iron ore exports are likely to hit a new low during the 2012-13 financial year and settle at about 40 million tonnes (mt), a drop of close to 35 per cent over the current year’s estimates. Exports are estimated to decline to about 60 mt in 2011-12 from 100 mt in 2010-11, a fall of 40 per cent.

“The decline in exports is mainly due to rise in export duty to 30 per cent and railway freight, which is highly discriminatory for exports compared to domestic freight rates. Before 2003, nobody bought low-grade ore from India. In the future, too, apart from China, nobody will buy low-grade ore,” said Basant Poddar, chairman, Federation of Indian Mineral Industries, South.

For example, the railways charge Rs 600 a tonne as freight for movement of ore for domestic consumption and Rs 2,800 a tonne for ore meant for exports. This has discouraged miners from exporting, he said.

Another major factor for low exports is the ban in Karnataka. In addition, the stoppage of mining in Karna-taka, following the Supreme Court order in July, added to a decline in exports during the current financial year.

Orissa’s exports have come down mainly due to differential railway freight rates. Goa’s exports have also declined substantially this year and may settle at about 34 mt, down from 55 mt last year, he said.

Karnataka’s share in national exports was about 35 mt till 2009-10. Since August 2010, there have been no exports from the state. Next year, India’s exports will touch the lowest level in the past decade.

“Demand from China is steady, but they are also getting ore from Australia and Brazil also. Australia and Brazil are together adding about 500 mt of exportable capacity in the next five years. Whereas, in India, we are closing our mines and losing our status as the third-largest exporter of ore in the world. We may drop to sixth or seventh position,” Poddar said.

During the current year, India’s share of exports in the world market is set to decline to about 10 per cent. In the next year, it is likely to further drop to about five per cent, at 35-40 mt.

Prices of 63 Fe grade iron ore, presently at $130-135 a tonne on a FoB basis in the international market, are likely to go up 8-10 per cent during the current quarter, as the demand from China is picking up after the beginning of the new year. At the same time, Indian miners are losing their position due to various reasons, said Praveen Kumar, chairman, Maya Iron Ores, a derivative commodity brokerage firm.

“If the Supreme Court accepts the Central Empow-ered Committee’s (CEC) recommendation and puts a cap on the production of iron ore at 30 mt in Karnataka, investments in the steel sector will not only be affected, but it would also lead to loss of market share for India in the export market,” he said.

The loss means future investments to the tune of about $5-10 billion in the ports and railway sectors taken up on a public-private partnership basis will be in jeopardy, Poddar noted.

“The Indian steel industry uses high grade ore and there is no market for low-grade ore, due to poor technology with steel mills. So, why stop low-grade ore exports , which has huge demand from China? If we can’t export it, there will be a problem in managing low-grade fines and it would cause environmental damage,” he added.

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First Published: Fri, February 10 2012. 00:21 IST