Chinese customs data, the primary source of information for the country’s trade, has revealed that imports of tin ore and concentrate from Myanmar have been continuing their downward trend. According to the latest customs statistics, China’s gross tin ore and concentrate imports in April 2019 totalled 11,724 tonnes, 96% of which originated from Myanmar. The tin content of these imports was estimated to be 3,500 tonnes, down 3% month-on-month (MoM) and 20% year-on-year (YoY), with around 3,300 tonnes from Myanmar, up 6% MoM, but down 23% YoY.
With domestic supply in China following the global tin mine trend of exhausting ore bodies, China have relied on imports from Myanmar to fill the significant smelting capacity in the country. While Myanmar remains the world’s third largest producer of tin-in-concentrate, exports peaked in 2017 and have been plotting a downward curve ever since.
On top of the long-term trend in Chinese tin concentrate supply, the country was also hit by the closure of the Baiyinchagan mine in February after an accident at the site. Not only did this result in the closure of the aforementioned mine, but mines in the surrounding area were also forced to close temporarily for safety checks. Because of this, Chinese smelters have been feeling a squeeze, with many reporting difficult procuring material. To cope, it was thought that imports of tin concentrate could increase, but the estimated tin content of total ore imports from January to April was 16,100 tonnes, down 29% YoY, of which 14,400 tonnes from Myanmar, down 35% YoY.
While smelters may be struggling to produce refined tin, traders have had no difficulty selling the material this year. Customs data also revealed that refined tin exports in April totalled 1,169 tonnes, down 11% MoM, but up 2,821% YoY. The exports of refined tin from January to April this year were 4,130 tonnes, up 107% YoY.
Our view: Decreasing ore imports from Myanmar so far this year have been partially offset by increased imports from other countries, so the scale of the decline in total ore imports was less than that of ore imports from Myanmar. Local ore traders report that tin ore mined in Myanmar can currently be locally concentrated to a higher tin grade, with more float concentrate being produced relative to gravity concentrate. However, the long-term trend of declining tin production in Myanmar, due to the exhaustion of ore stocks, is continuing. Unless there is a significant discovery of new resources, Myanmar will likely be overtaken as the world’s third largest tin concentrate producer by 2025.
After Q1 refined exports reached the highest quarterly total record since Q3 2007, they have remained high; April’s export total was still significant due to the large export arbitrage after tax rebate. However, because the LME price has been more volatile than the Chinese price in May and China’s VAT was lowered to 13% in early April, the export arbitrage has decreased, and export activities have been reduced recently. The figure for May is unlikely to reach the level of exports in April because of this.