China’s iron ore imports retreated by an additional 1% during 2022. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Banchero Costa said that “2022 was a rather negative year for global iron ore trade, primarily due to weaker demand worldwide and supply issues in Brazil. In January-December 2022, global iron ore loadings declined by -2.3% y-o-y to 1,519.4 mln tonnes, excluding cabotage, from 1,554.4 mln t in 2021, according to vessels tracking data from Refinitiv. Volumes were almost at par with the 1,525.6 mln tonnes shipped in 2019, but below the 1,557.2 mln tonnes shipped in 2018. Exports from Australia increased by +1.5% y-o-y in Jan-Dec 2022 to 896.7 mln tonnes, above 2020 levels, and a new all-time record high. Exports from Brazil, on the other hand, declined by -2.0% y-o-y in 2022 to 339.9 mln tonnes, from 346.9 mln tonnes in 2021. They were however below the 2018 level of 386.9 mln tonnes. Volumes from South Africa declined by -5.2% y-o-y in 2022 to 53.9 mln t.
According to Banchero Costa, “demand has been poor everywhere. Iron ore imports into Japan declined by -7.7% y-o-y in 2022 to 90.7 mln t. Volumes into South Korea were down by -10.2% y-o-y to 70.2 mln t. To the European Union imports ended up down -1.3% y-o-y to 81.4 mln tonnes in the same period. Imports into the Arabian Gulf were also down by -11.1% y-o-y to 46.7 mln tonnes in 2022”.
“Mainland China is by far the largest importer of iron ore in the world. In Jan-Dec 2022, China accounted for 71.3% of global seaborne iron ore imports, with Japan in second place at just 6.0% and the EU in third place with a 5.4% share. However, iron ore imports into China corrected significantly in 2021 and 2022 from the record levels seen previously. China’s iron ore imports in the 12 months of 2020 surged by a massive +6.9% y-o-y to 1,108.1 mln t, from 1,036.2 mln t in 2019. In 2020, China took advantage of favourably low prices of the commodity when most of the rest of the world was shut down in lockdowns. However, high iron ore prices in 2021, combined with a slowdown in construction activity following the financial troubles of developer Evergrande, resulted in a significant slowdown in steel production and iron ore demand in China”, the shipbroker noted.
Banchero Costa added that “in 2021, China imported just 1,088.9 mln t of iron ore, down -1.7% y-o-y. In 2022, imports into China declined further by -1.0% y-o-y to 1,077.7 mln tonnes. The vast majority (80%) of iron ore volumes into China are loaded on Capesize vessels, with 16% carried on VLOCs, 3% on Panamaxes, and just 1% on Supramaxes or Handies. The main iron ore import terminals in Mainland China are: Caofeidian (99.5 mln t loaded in JanDec 2022), Rizhao (79.1 mln t), Jingtang (76.0 mln t), Tianjin (73.9 mln t), Ningbo/Zhoushan (68.2 mln t), Lianyungang (53.1 mln t), Dongjiakou (52.4 mln t), Zhanjiang (47.9 mln t), Changzhou (47.1 mln t), Lanshan (46.2 mln t), Qingdao (42.0 mln t), Huanghua (41.2 mln t), Fangcheng (38.1 mln t), Beilun (35.8 mln t), Bayuquan (31.9 mln t).
In terms of sources for China’s iron ore imports, things changed in a negative way for tonne-miles. Australia still remains by far the top source of iron ore for China, with a 69% share in 2022. Iron ore imports from Australia to China in 2022 increased by +3.4% yo-y to 739.5 mln tonnes, from 715.4 mln t in 2021. Brazil remains in second spot with a 21% share in 2021. Imports to China from Brazil declined by -7.1% y-o-y to 223.4 mln tonnes in 2022, from 240.3 mln t in 2021. Volumes from South Africa increased by +1.2% y-o-y to 29.2 mln t in 2022. From Peru they increased by +2.1% y-o-y to 18.0 mln t in 2022. From Canada volumes declined by -12.7% y-o-y to 12.7 mln tonnes. From India volumes declined by -49.3% y-o-y to 8.7 mln tonnes”, the shipbroker concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide