The most senior local executive at Swiss trading and mining giant Glencore has waded into the iron ore debate, saying rapid Australian expansions have driven down prices and cost the nation tax, royalties and superannuation dollars.
Speaking in Melbourne yesterday, Glencore coal mining chief Peter Freyberg said boomtime expansions that had seen Australian iron ore production surge and cost more than $US50 billion ($64bn) in development spending from Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals, had been a negative exercise.
“The numbers speak for themselves — if you go back a couple of years, there were 500 million tonnes of (annual) export at $US100 a tonne,” Mr Freyberg said.
“That’s versus 700 million tonnes of exports today at $US60, so there’s a whole lot of revenue that’s gone missing following a bunch of investment.
“At the end of the day, (with respect to) the returns to Australia, into superannuation funds, through royalties, through taxes, it’s been a negative exercise.”
Glencore’s billionaire chief executive Ivan Glasenberg has been scathing of the majors in recent times, attacking their strategies of big low-cost expansion as one that has cut profits.
Fortescue chairman and major shareholder Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has embarked on a campaign to pressure BHP and Rio to slow their expansions to help boost prices, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott only recently backtracking on plans for an inquiry into the industry.
According to Mr Freyberg, $US8bn of revenue has been lost in a scenario that assumes expansions from competitors such as Brazil would not have left Australia producing lower volumes at the same lower price, something Rio says would have been the case had it not expanded.
At a presentation to the Melbourne Mining Club, Mr Freyberg said Glencore was looking for opportunities in a depressed market.
He said the market was similar to that in the 1990s when Glencore made a host of acquisitions that had now become top-tier mining assets. “We are looking at assets and opportunities to position ourselves for the future,” Mr Freyberg said.
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