China Mining and Metals: The Waking Giant
China has long been a player in the markets for minor metals and industrial minerals but it is only in the last decade that it has emerged as a major force in the markets for major metals and minerals. For some of these, such as iron ore, copper and alumina, strongly rising Chinese demand has resulted in strong growth in imports from producers elsewhere in the world. In seaborne iron ore, for example, China accounted for no less than 60% of total world growth over 1990-2000. For other commodities, including zinc, tin and coal, fast growing domestic production has led to China becoming a substantial exporter and, consequently, a major challenge to western producers. In light of its continuing rapid industrialisation, the expectation must be that China's influence on world metal and mineral markets will increase in the future. However, China's mining and metal industries have some unusual characteristics. They are generally dominated by a very large number of small producers, many of them operating remotely from world markets and in ways that would not be possible elsewhere. This makes for particular difficulties in analysing the likely future direction of China's mining. Additional complications are posed by China's stated (though as yet unfulfilled) intention to attract significant foreign investment into the sector and the greater exposure to world markets that China’s industry is likely to be subject to following its entry into the World Trade Organisation.