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How India turned copper importer from exporter in 3 yrs & Pakistan stepped in to fill the gap

India was a major copper exporter but with the shutting down of Sterlite plant, it has now turned into a net importer. This has been advantageous to Pakistan, say exporters.

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New Delhi: India, a major exporter of refined copper till a few years ago, is set to become a net importer for the third consecutive year as a plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi continues to remain shut due to environmental concerns.

The sharp fall in India’s exports has proven to be advantageous for neighbouring Pakistan, which has stepped in to partially bridge the gap, especially to countries like China, according to trade data and exporters.

India turning a net importer has been both on account of a sharp increase in imports and a contraction in exports. This is mainly due to shutting of a plant of Vedanta’s subsidiary Sterlite Copper, which had a production capacity of 4 lakh tonnes.

Sterlite Copper’s copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi was shut down in May 2018 by the Tamil Nadu government after the state’s pollution control board made a recommendation to this effect. This followed violent protests by residents after environmental concerns that the plant posed a health hazard to those living in the area.

“Domestic copper industry is operating at almost half of its capacity since the last two financial years due to closure of Vedanta Ltd’s 400 thousand tonnes copper smelter at Tuticorin,” said Care Ratings in an 18 February report. It added that India will continue to be a net importer of copper in FY21, pending the resumption of Vedanta’s copper smelting facility.

According to data available with the government, the import of refined copper increased to 92,290 tonnes in 2018-19, from 44,245 tonnes in 2017-18 while exports declined to 47,917 tonnes in 2018-19 from 3.78 lakh tonnes in 2017-18. This resulted in net import of 44,373 tonnes in 2018-19 from net exports of 3,34,310 tonnes in 2017-18.

In terms of value, India’s net exports of refined copper were more than $2 billion in 2017-18 before turning into a net importer beginning 2018-19.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

Also read: Mukesh Ambani is back to being the richest person in Asia

The value of copper

Copper is a major input in many industries. The electrical and telecommunication industry had the largest share in copper consumption followed by transport, consumer durables, building and construction and engineering goods.

After three consecutive months of sharp contraction, India’s copper imports have started rising again beginning September on account of an increase in demand from local manufacturing units which have opened up after the pandemic induced lockdown.

Like with steel products, India’s copper exports, especially to China, also rose sharply in the first few months of the current fiscal due to a non-existent local demand as industries remained shut in India due to the pandemic.

However, with the domestic industry restarting, exports have slowed down.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

A shortage in world refined copper stocks coupled with a strong demand from China has also seen global prices increasing. This has raised costs for local industries, which are dependent on copper for their production, leading to demands from some local industry bodies for reopening of the Sterlite plant.

Higher demand and supply crunch also led to a sharp fall in inventory levels which lent further support to prices, Care Ratings said in its note, adding that the ongoing problem of copper ore mining and a strong demand, particularly from China, is expected to keep copper prices elevated over the next quarter.

“We expect refined copper prices to average $6,500-6,800 per tonne in FY21 vs $5,923 in FY20,” it said.

Also read: Inflation remains a worry, so can’t afford to change 4% target for next 5 years, RBI says

Edge to Pakistan

China was a major market for India’s refined copper exports a few years ago. However, with India ceding this space, Pakistan has stepped in to fill in this gap, albeit marginally.

Trade data from the respective countries shows that India’s share in China’s copper imports fell to less than 1 per cent in 2019 from more than 5 per cent in 2017. Pakistan’s share in China’s copper import basket increased to 0.6 per cent from 0.1 per cent during the same period.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

Ajay Sahai, director general, Federation of Indian Exports Organisations, said India had a geographical advantage vis-a-vis exports to China but this has now transferred to Pakistan.

“India was a major supplier of copper till a few years back. We were catering mainly to China. But then the Sterlite plant shut down and we lost most of that market,” he said.

“Pakistan is also producing copper and shares India’s geographical advantage, especially when it comes to exporting to China. Latin American countries also export copper. But in their case, freight costs are higher,” Sahai added.

Also read: GDP data today set to show Indian economy out of the woods even as new Covid cases loom


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  1. You have to see that peoples are starting to live around the industrious area and then they demand for environmental protection and health issue
    Because when this plant was started there was no concerns about all this peoples health .
    This type of demand will adversily hit the economy

  2. Bishop Ambroise is the name of the Ringleader of the anti-Hindu Break India forces in that area. He was instrumental in getting the Christian DMK owned channels to go against the plant without any science even to back him up.Pastor Mohan Lazarus in his speeches said without any scientific backing, that Sterlite is a toxic factory. He said that the Church is praying to shut down the factory. The Koodankulam protests saw the participation of Bishop Yvon Ambroise, SP Udayakumar, while Sterlite had Mohan.
    The anti-development attitude of the Church, their Nexus with the Breaking-India Maoist, LTTE sympathizers is quite evident from these instances. The Vatican sponsored churches want to derail the growth progress of the State as well as the Nation. When locals are rendered jobless.

  3. Missionaries backed the protests and nonsense science behind the protests. Missionaries and their Dhimmis wish to keep India poor and dependent, the better for their conversion. One commenter wrote that Christians have been in Tuticorin for 500 years. Yes the Christians whites forcefully converted a few hundred to destroy the rest. It was Inquisition and Genocide against Hindus. That is the Christian story in TN. Tuticorin protests were Crusade by another name.

  4. We are Ready to open sterlite on one condition
    1) CEO and all his close family members should stay (permanent 24/7) in the refining campus.

  5. Why cannot the Cooper smelter be relocated to any port city in Kerala. So Remya Nair’s kith and kin also knows how polluting the factory is …
    They want to keep their state as God own Country & want their neighbours to be global dumpyard.

    • Perfect comment! I have seen the same attitude of Malayalee. When they go to other states they use cut trees. But in there state, they will avoid factories, cutting trees! Selfish fellows!
      Have you (author of the article) ever visited the affected people and write article about it?

  6. It is loss to a private player who was polluting the local environment. why people are bring India here. Cost of 1 tonne of copper is $5, 923, total production capacity is 4 Lakh tonnes per annum. So the total revenue is 236,92,00000./2.37 Billions.

  7. Good going “the print” .. I always feel even you act as per The “lobbies” – and you always prove me right.

    Article is very much similar to what Vedanta gives in Newspapers.

  8. A detailed review of current pollution status (on air, water and land) is essential . it shall be conducted by a third party . This alone will bring the true picture

  9. Missionaries are successful. India lost. Keeping people poor and dependent on church is very important for conversion factories.

    • we should install a copper plant next to your house and have you and your family drink the ground water contaminated by that plant. You will be on the streets fighting against it tooth and nail. Stop being a hypocrite.

  10. We love to associate with any investor and contracts consultants PMC advisory services provider msme registered women’s enterprise prop Sunita Mishra to see Pakistan army and govt changing tune now due to financial crisis in Pakistan army should first dismantle it’s attachments without if and but to live in peace and water supply infrastructure development project management to benefited both countries around the world peace should leave militancy looms large over its failures to ckek this is making inroads into pakistan ko shanti pradan kare yedi developmentof their own tabiyat theek hai to hum log milker phir se kuch thik thak ker saktey hai Bharat Swabhiman andolan Bangladesh is doing well with India international laision and contracts consultants PMC advisory services provider in India for technology transfer for construction industry and manufacturing readymade garment and other companies specially food products processing and packaging plant can be state govt to work with us I am retired engineering services provider policy through investment from India and World will change effects of corona effects bussiness development manager note if you want to associate with us please contact me spmishra advisor PMC construction consultants PMC advisory services provider and SJP chandersekhsregroup delhi pradesh sangathan mantri Ito office for rendering support you in building construction products manufactured in India for development project in your country’s infrastructure development project management we can submit your company for above mentioned subject our design architecture and tender preparations services can be introduced to associate with your friends and discuss further details for assistance please contact me spmishra advisor PMC construction consultants Delhi India tel no 92-

  11. D Souza , that’s why it was proven during the nuclear power plant agitation that the missionaries were being funded by foreigners to subvert the plant. Missionaries need to stop converting and refrain from anti national activities!!

  12. If the author, Remya Nair allows Sterlite kind of Copper smelter to be put up at or around her home and make all her kids and other family members live on the proximity of the water body carrying effluents from the plant, she earns a right to worry about the dropping production of copper in India. Contrarily, if she and her family enjoy a life far removed from the deadly effects of Sterlite, she better shuts her mouth and focus on something that has nothing to do with copper.

  13. India was smelting imported copper ore and exporting extracted copper after polluting our lands. Is it so important to turn into a prostitute for the sake of money. Why can’t china smelt it in their own country.

  14. Sounds like the Writer of the article is a silent BJP sangh supporter voicing and parroting propaganda of her Sanghi Masters. Selling your natural resources to a known anti India country like China , to help prosper a gujju or baniya from north india is more important than the millions of South Indian lives being affected by the evil sterlite industries is of no concern or consideration?
    I remember Karnataka being plundered out of its steel ores to help built the stadiums for Beijing Olympics and the person who sold it helped fund BJP in Karnataka.
    Anyways we dont sell natural resources to Anti India nations like China. If Pakistan wants to rape its natural wealth to please its Chinese Masters then its their business.
    The Author of this article should sit and concentrate on things which affect common indians like the RISING PETROL PRICE and THE LPG price instead of wasting our time and her efforts on playing the puppet to her masters in BJP HQ.

    • the writer of the above comment is a closet marxist or missionary , parroting propaganda of the Chairman or pope. In the garb uplifting the poor you exploit either for political gains or increase your numbers.
      umpteen number of catholics have funded the missionary activities , just as former russia (USSR) or china fund the communists in various parts of the world most notably the Naxal den JNU, NALSAR, Jadavpur University, TISS etc..
      any way we dont sell our integrity or religion for a bag of rice or few Yuan. if Catholics want to please communists for their survival in china its their business.
      The Author of the above comment should put efforts thinking how survive before getting wiped out from kerala or WB. And also why christianity is losing ground in the west (America, Europe, etc..) instead of playing puppet to Xitler or Pope.

  15. India has always been deficit in copper and needs to import copper. The Question is which one Copper Ore Concentrate or Copper Scrap. The sterlite was not producing copper out of locally sourced material. The Sterlite was importing copper ore concentrate and refining it in the most polluting process which is very energy intensive and involved smelting, converting, fire refining, electrolytic refing which created a total mess for local habitat including polluting the ground water etc.
    China was happy as they did not want to pollute their environment and imported it from Sterlite India.
    There are alternatives like importing copper scrap but Sterlite was smart enough to manage a lower import duty for copper ore concentrate making scrap importing SME and other business unviable and maintaining their hegemony on the business…this model is very successful in third world countries and is termed ” crony capitalism”
    Copper Scrap is a much better option as it is a very low energy intensive process and also not fact like all recycling it needs to be promoted.
    Sterlite is now trying all tricks including misguiding your very balanced new media by invoking nationalism and anti Pakistan sentiment…in all probability will succeed.

  16. Possibility of foul play in shutting down of the Vedanta plant. It was evident that China and Pakistan are the direct beneficiary of the shutdown. It’s not a coincidence. Investigation should be done thoroughly to find the motives and support to the sudden public protests against the plant

  17. Christian missionaries and Chinese funded groups are rumored to be behind this. Even local people are clamoring to reopen the unit.

  18. Those who don’t know,Recko Diq is one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mine situated in Pakistan’s state Balochistan. I saw a video in youtube about saindak ,you will find it pretty good .

  19. it is high time we look have another look at agitations and actvisms in india if we want to progress.

  20. It seems @Remya nair is a fake identity which is targeted to defame India. Please be ware of such posts specially from this ID i.e Remya Nair. The same I’d has recently been found to promote terrorism in other parts of the world. So, please report such posts as spam in the reply.

  21. This is the price the country has to pay for assorted freelancers — many of them came to India on tourist visa — and were seen urging and indulging in violence in order to provoke the police into firing.

  22. Rumors are rumors, don’t believe it, till date nothing is proved against those protesters who were killed in the police firing. Closure was a government decision confirmed by the high court. Tuticorin is a port city wherein residents adopted Christianity 500 years back. These residents are called as missionaries by some anti nationals who spoil and divide our countrymen. They should now invite sterlite to install that plant in their home town and prosper. Sterlite Tuticorin has already earned manifolds of what they invested in Tuticorin. All the best to them.

  23. Leftists and anti nationalists pre planned and shutdown the sterlite company to harm India and to benefit Pakistan and China.

  24. Interesting to note the person who commented above. Always had these rumours floating that vested interests were behind the shutting of these plants.. especially missionaries…rumors were they got foreign funding for this.

    • Yes. There is tacit alliance between missionaries, leftists and jihadists. They have different agenda, but weakening of Hindus & India is common goal. leftists want to weaken India for benefit of China, Missionaries for soul harvesting and jihadis for Pakistan.

  25. The state of the environment definitely takes precedence over prosperity. Also, safety should not be compromised to satisfy the greed of a few

    • next time you board. any. vehicle that runs on. fossil fuel or you turn on you. light bulb, please remember what you said.

    • ya you collude with marxists and destroy economy. China which has funded you both is laughing while it fills its coffers via CPEC.
      clap. clap.. clap…
      by the way is Kanyakumari district completely converted ? …. oh currently concentrating on thoothukudi ahh.. ok ok ..

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