Beijing - South Africa overtook India to become China's
third-biggest iron ore supplier in 2012, while Australia strengthened its dominant
position as the major supplier to the world's biggest iron ore consuming
nation, data from customs showed on Monday.
South Africa provided 40.6 million tonnes over the year, up
12% compared to 2011, while Indian imports declined 54.74% to 33 million
Indian authorities have been cracking down on chaotic and
illegal iron ore production, with the state of Goa - one of the country's
biggest suppliers - imposing a blanket ban on all mining activities last
Supplies from India amounted to 10.6% of China's total
imports in 2011, but were already disrupted by a mining ban in Karnataka,
India's biggest iron ore producing state.
India's share of total imports into China has been in steady
decline for several years, falling from 23% in 2006 to just 4.4% last year.
The biggest beneficiary of the Indian supply crunch has been
Australia, China's top supplier by far. It delivered 351.5 million tonnes, or
47% of China's total imports over the year, up from 43% in 2011, and its
dominance is likely to increase further in 2013.
"This year should be the year of Australia taking an
increasing market share on the global iron ore market," said Graeme Train,
commodities analyst with Macquarie in Shanghai.
"Brazil is not going to see any growth with Vale guiding for negative volumes - the vast
majority of growth on the seaborne market is coming from Australia."
Australia's position in China is also likely to be
strengthened if the European iron and steel sector starts to recover this year,
allowing the likes of South Africa and Finland to divert deliveries back to
their traditional markets.
India's ranking has plunged throughout the second half of
the year, with monthly shipments eventually falling behind the likes of
Mauritania, North Korea and Finland to come in at 20th place in December.
Supplies from India are not expected to recover in the near
term, and are unlikely to reach previous high levels, said Train.
"I think India can recover to some extent - they are
going through a process of cleaning up illegal operations and eventually it
will get back on line, but it will be at severely reduced volumes relative to
where they were historically."
China imported a record of 743.6 million tonnes of iron ore
in 2012, up 8.4% on the year.