News Brief

Pakistan Gains From Sterlite Plant Closure In TN’s Thoothukudi, Its Copper Exports To China Surge 400 Per Cent

  • Sterlite copper plant was ordered shut by Tamil Nadu on 28 May 2018 after violent protests demanding its closure.
  • As a consequence, India became a net importer of copper after 18 years, and over $1,200 million in precious foreign exchange was lost in payments.
  • M R SubramaniTuesday, May 5, 2020 11:04 am IST
    Pakistan Prime Minister meets China’s President Xi Jinping 
    Pakistan Prime Minister meets China’s President Xi Jinping 

    Pakistan has gained immensely from the closure of Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu in May 2018, especially in shipping the non-ferrous metal to China.

    According to media reports in Pakistan, Islamabad's copper shipments to China increased over 400 per cent in terms of value since the closure of the Thoothukudi copper plant, a unit of UK-based Vedanta Resources Ltd.

    The News of Pakistan, in a report quoting China Economic Net, said exports of copper products to China increased to $550 million last year from $106 three years ago.

    The Pakistan website said that the shipments of copper had helped boost the local industry.

    The Sterlite copper plant was ordered shut by the Tamil Nadu government on 28 May 2018 after protests demanding its closure turned violent.

    In the violence that occurred on 22 May 2018, at least 13 persons were killed when police fired at protesters who turned violent and began damaging vehicles and properties.

    The protests demanding the closure of Sterlite began in February 2018 after Vedanta launched works for further expansion of the Thoothukudi plant.

    The Sterlite Copper plant contributed 40 per cent of the country’s total copper production when it was forced to shut down.

    The Union government told Parliament earlier this year that the plant’s closure had led to a domino effect with imports rising and exports slipping.

    In view of the Thoothukudi plant’s closure, India became a net importer of copper after 18 years. Imports more than doubled to 92,990 tonnes during the 2018-19 financial year, while exports dropped to a meagre 47,917 tonnes from 3.78 lakh tonnes.

    A total of $605.20 million of precious foreign exchange was spent on imports during the 2018-19 financial year, while $684.02 million was spent during the April-September period of 2019-20 financial year.

    According to Trading Economics, Pakistani exports of copper and articles increased over 66 per cent to $353.87 million in 2019 from around $210 million the previous year.

    The News said that Pakistan increased its exports to China through one of its largest copper reserves, the ‘Reko Diq project’.

    Reko Diq is a small desert area town in Balochistan province bordering Afghanistan and Iran. The “Reko Diq project” is under dispute since Anglo-Australian mining firm BHP discovered large deposits of gold and copper ores.

    BHP sold its stakes to Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) but the Balochistan government failed to acknowledge it.

    TCC went to the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes and got $5.95 billion order in its favour.

    However, the dispute is yet to be resolved.

    China’s biggest copper industry player, Metallurgical Corporation of China, is looking forward to increasing Pakistan copper exports to $10 billion a year if the “Reko Diq project” dispute is resolved.

    The Metallurgical Corporation is executing the Saindak gold-copper project in Balochistan since 1995.

    The Saindak project produces 4.5 million tonnes of copper ores a year that helps smelt 13,000 tonnes of copper blister annually.

    Since the resources are fast depleting at Saindak, the Chinese company is keen on taking over the operations at the ‘Reko Diq project’.

    Beijing has asked Pakistan to call for international tenders for this and another project called H4, even as Islamabad sounds confident of increasing its copper exports to China.

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