COLUMN-Indonesia nickel, bauxite ban yet to hit China – by Clyde Russell (Reuters U.S. – March 27, 2014)

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

(Reuters) – Indonesia’s ban on exporting unprocessed nickel and bauxite has been in force for more than two months, but the impact has yet to fully show up in Chinese imports.

China’s trade data for February shows nickel ore imports from Indonesia were about 3.1 million tonnes, down only 2.5 percent from the same month a year earlier.

Indonesia’s ban on exporting unprocessed minerals took effect on Jan. 12, and while there have been some moves to relax restrictions on copper and other ores, the total ban on nickel and bauxite remains.

Nonetheless, Indonesia’s share of China’s total nickel imports in February was 87 percent, showing the world’s biggest buyer of commodities hasn’t made a marked shift as yet to alternative suppliers.

In the first two months of the year China imported 9.2 million tonnes of nickel ore from Indonesia, a 29.1 percent jump over the same period in 2013.

The strength in January can be explained by Chinese buying ahead of the export ban starting, and the resilience in February is most likely down to cargoes that left Indonesia in early January only being booked as February arrivals due to the Lunar New Year holiday in late January and early February.

With bauxite, used as a the raw material for making alumina, which in turn is used to produce aluminium, there was a reduction in China’s February imports.

China imported a total of 3.2 million tonnes in February, of which 2.13 million came from Indonesia.

Imports from Indonesia were 22.2 percent lower than for February 2013, but a bumper January means that imports for the first two months were 44 percent higher at 8.3 million tonnes.

Before the ban on unprocessed exports, Indonesia was the world’s top nickel ore exporter and the largest bauxite supplier to China, accounting for around 12 percent of the global market in both cases, with the trade worth about $3 billion a year.

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