The world’s biggest iron ore producers

More than 50 countries around the world produce iron ore for both domestic use and export markets.

The world’s top 10 Iron ore producers

Country 2013 (millions of tonnes) 2014 (millions of tonnes)
US 53 58
Australia 609 660
Brazil 317 320
Canada 43 41
China 1450 1500
India 150 150
Iran 50 45
Kazakhstan 26 26
Russia 105 105
Sweden 26 26
Ukraine 82 82
Other Countries 127 131
Total 3110 3220

Top Producing Pie Graph 2014
Source[4]
Note: Mine production for China is based on crude ore, rather than usable ore, which is reported for the other countries.

Despite being the largest producer of iron ore, China is also the world’s largest importer of iron ore. Chinese iron ore is of an inferior grade compared to other major producers around the world. According to a report by HDRSalva, the average iron ore grade mined in China has a Fe content of around 17-20%, compared to a standard 62% worldwide. In 2013, China produced more than 1Bt of iron ore, which is equivalent to only 325Mt of 62% Fe grade iron ore.[7]

 

Which countries are the biggest iron ore consumers?

Iron Ore Consuming Countries
Source

The world’s biggest iron ore producing companies

The largest iron ore producer is the Brazilian mining corporation Vale. A diversified metals mining multinational and the world’s largest single producer of iron ore, Vale produced 320 million tonnes in 2014 for domestic use and exported to countries including Germany, Japan, South Korea and China.

Vale is also planning to increase their production of iron ore exponentially in the coming four years, potentially taking market share away from other iron ore producers.[9]

Prior to the most recent mining boom there were 5 iron ore producing companies in Australia. Companies tend to enter the market when prices are good and exit in more challenging market conditions. The numbers swelled to more than 20 as new entrants looked to take advantage of record high prices. Currently the three largest iron ore producers are Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group which accounted for around 90% of Australia’s iron ore production in 2014.

Producers Global Context

Iron Ore production in Australia

The economic boom in China resulted in an unprecedented demand for iron ore. That is reflected in the sharp increase in the price for iron ore from 2006. Australian production increased to help meet global demand which is predicted to remain strong for many years, according to a report by the Australian Government’s Export Finance and Insurance Corporation.[10]

Australian iron producers that have increased production between 2012 and 2014 include Fortescue Metals group (up 97 million tonnes), BHP Billiton (52 million tonnes) and Rio Tinto (42 million tonnes).

AUS-Production-World-Comparison

Iron Ore Prices

Commodities that are traded on global markets go through cycles. If demand rises, prices tend to rise and production is increased to meet demand. This happened in the 1960s when there was an iron ore boom to meet the needs of Japan’s growing economy.

Over the past decade iron ore prices have hit record highs due to China’s rapid development and growth. As China slows its growth to more sustainable levels, the unprecedented demand for iron ore and steel is slowing but still remains strong.

Iron Ore China GDP

Prices achieved during the super cycle of the past 5 years are not indicative of the average price of iron ore over the longer term. Prices are moving back closer to the long-term average and Australia’s major mines are well placed to continue contributing to the economy as the lowest cost producers of iron ore in the world.

iron-Ore-Prices-1985

Like most commodities, iron ore prices are set by global demand. As there are some 50 countries producing iron ore, buyers can negotiate with any of the producing companies operating in these countries for export. Australia has developed a global reputation as an efficient, competitive, stable and reliable supplier.

Plus, while the iron content in mined ore can vary widely, Australia’s product has proven to contain consistently high iron concentrations of around 60%.

All of this has helped us develop a strong competitive advantage in the global market, which has provided highly skilled jobs, investment and taxes and royalty payments to our governments for essential services and infrastructure.