China customs data released yesterday shows a rise in tin ore, concentrate and metal imports last month. The gross weight of ore and concentrate imports in December was 46,538 tonnes (estimated 5,400t contained tin), up by 5% compared to December 2015, while tin metal imports for the month rose 44% year-on-year to 1,692 tonnes.
The flow of raw materials continues to be dominated by border trade with Myanmar’s Wa County, which accounted for 98.8% of ore receipts last month. Supply from Myanmar in 2016 totalled 472,506 tonnes gross weight or an estimated 57,000t tin. Almost 18% of this is believed to have come out of the Wa government’s stocks, with the tin content of output from the Wa mining district estimated at 50,000 tonnes last year.
China’s imports of tin metal in 2016 totalled 10,088 tonnes, down 2% from 2015. 84% of tin metal imports during December came from Bolivia and Myanmar, at 801t and 628t respectively. While the higher than usual imports of Bolivian tin reported since September have continued through to December, the imports from Myanmar are unexpected. While a 1,000tpa capacity tin smelter operates in the south of the country near Yangon, production from the plant over the last 20 years has been considered to be negligible. Therefore, we believe the imports most likely represent sales of tin metal stocks held in the country. China’s refined tin exports for the year totalled 736t, up 31% from 2015, while the sales of tin products not subject to the 10% export duty jumped 15% to 5,414t over the same period.
ITRI View: In 2016, tin shipments from Wa were boosted by processing of above ground ore stocks and sale of government stocks, while the true mine output has fallen due to rising costs and falling tin grades. We anticipate the tin content of ore and concentrate shipped from the area to remain stable at 50,000t this year. With the non-renewal of China’s 10% duty on refined tin exports, we also note the potential for higher refined tin exports from China in 2017, although the extent of this will be dependent on the price differential between China and the rest of the world.