India throws $15 bn lifeline to world's iron ore miners


India's efforts to clamp down on illegal mining have handed a $15 billion lifeline to global iron ore giants, and there could be more to come.

Steps taken by federal and state authorities to clean up the mining and export of iron ore have shut down output in two key producing states, slashing shipments and forcing steel mills to import a raw material the country has in abundance. Now the Shah Commission, whose report on top exporter Goa led to the state government's ban on mining in September, has turned its attention to the last major iron ore producing state of Odisha.

The exit of the world's third-largest iron ore exporter has been perfectly timed for miners in other countries seeking alternatives for their growing supplies as appetite from top buyer China slows.

The world's biggest producers Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have taken

some of India's market share in China, Japan and South Korea, and now are even eyeing exports to their erstwhile competitor. Smaller miners like Australia's Fortescue Metals Group also benefit, as they supply the lower-grade ore that competes directly with India in the Chinese market. "It will be a huge bonus for big miners," said Graeme Train, commodity analyst at Macquarie in Shanghai.

"There'll also be a premium emerging for lower grade ore and India's absence will drive Chinese interest into Fortescue-type products."

India's campaign to end illegal mining -- which authorities say has cost Goa and Karnataka states around 510 billion rupees ($9 billion) in lost revenue in the last decade -- has cut its iron ore output by more than 20 percent in the year to March and

its exports by almost double that. Annual exports, which in the past decade peaked at nearly 106 million tonnes, may dwindle to as low as 5 million tonnes over the next year, analysts say. The roughly 100 million tonnes of lost exports at the current average price of around $110 per tonne and another potential 30 million tonnes of imports of higher-quality ore at around $140 per tonne will cost India $15 billion, according to Reuters calculations, money that goes straight into the pockets of foreign miners picking up the slack. India's role switch is one reason for a rebound in iron ore prices , which this year fell below $87 a tonne to their lowest since 2009 due to China's slowing economic growth. India's iron ore exports to China fell to less than 300,000 tonnes in October -- the lowest in at least two decades – after the ban in Goa. That followed a mining ban in Karnataka in 2011, after shipments there were halted a year earlier.

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