Official statistics from the Bolivian Ministry of Minerals and Metals reveal a year-on-year fall in both mine and refined tin production in the country in the first quarter of 2017, with mine output falling 6.7% to 4,381 tonnes and refined metal production falling 14.1% to 3,809 tonnes.
The reduction in mine output can be largely attributed to a 37% year-on-year fall in production attributed to mining cooperatives to 590 tonnes during Q1, with reported state-owned mined output increasing by 3.1% to 2,756 tonnes. The mining minister has suggested that this is largely a result of recent efforts to combat mineral theft at the state-owned Huanuni mine. Despite the year-on-year fall, mine production has increased 6.5% compared to Q4 2016.
In contrast, the year-on-year contraction in refined tin output during Q1 is all attributable to the state-owned Vinto smelter, where production fell 19.6% to 2,861 tonnes. In contrast, private smelter output rose 8.4% to 948 tonnes. Vinto reports that it exported 5,200 tonnes of refined tin in the first five months of the year, but added that it struggled to meet contracts in June due to strikes held at ports across Chile, which caused disruption to tin shipments. The company, which produced 13,111 tonnes in 2016, has also announced a halt to operations in July to replace the brick lining inside its Ausmelt furnace.
ITRI View: The month of maintenance at the Vinto smelter may result in further limit tin exports from Bolivia over the next month or two, but it is possible that the backlog of tin shipments held up in June will partially offset this. It appears that mine production is slowly recovering from the drought in Q4 last year, but the volume of tin-in-concentrate is still lower that the same period of 2016. Production continued to be restricted by reliance on old and inefficient processing facilities, particularly at the state-owned Huanuni Mine. The reported crackdown on mineral theft at Huanuni has likely seen the affected concentrate classified as extra production by state companies rather than co-operatives, which would have the effect the effect of disguising this underlying impact on state mine production in the recent statistics.