Copper has long been one of the most important and popular industrial metals in the world, with a 3% per year production growth since 1900. In 2011, approximately 16 million tons of the metal was produced according to the International Copper Study Group. The metal’s wide use is attributable to its availability and recyclability, its metallic properties that make it an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and its antimicrobial and corrosion-resistant properties [for more copper news and analysis subscribe to our free newsletter].
Below, we outline a few of the largest and most important copper-producing nations in the world.
State-owned Codelco (Corporacion Nacional del Cobre de Chile) is the world’s largest copper producer, producing 1.79 million tons in 2013. According to the company, it controls approximately 9% of the global copper reserves. In 2014, Chile as a whole accounted for more than one-third of global copper production, with total mine output of 5.8 million tons. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, copper production accounts for approximately 19% of government revenue, making the Chilean copper industry one of the most important both domestically and globally [see also Ultimate Guide To Copper Investing].
Chile is also home to the fifth-largest copper producer, Antofagasta (ANTO). The company produced 705,000 tons of copper in 2014. ANTO’s mines are located predominantly in Chile, therefore the company plays an important role in Chilean economics alongside Codelco.
Jiangxi Copper is China’s largest copper producer with a roughly 1,100 ton output level in 2014. Overall, China increased its copper mine production from 1,600 million tons in 2013 to 1,620 million tons in 2014. In addition to its leading copper mining output levels, China was also the largest producer of blister and anode in 2013, with just over 5.7 million tons. The country is also the largest refined copper consumer with a 9.5 million ton usage level.
Peru holds steady as the third-largest copper mine producing country; it increased output levels from 1,380 million tons to 1,400 million tons between 2013 and 2014. Expansion plans for the second half of 2015 and 2016 are expected to help Peru surpass China as the second-largest producer of the metal in the world. Copper and the mining industry have been an integral part of the Peruvian economy; according to the CIA world Factbook, mining accounts for 60% of the country’s total exports, which helped it become one the fastest growing economies in the world with an average annual GDP growth rate of 6.4% between 2002 and 2012.
The second-largest copper producer is Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold (FCX), based out of Phoenix, Arizona. Trading on the New York Stock Exchange, it is the largest exchange-traded copper mining producer, producing 1.69 million tons in 2014. Overall, the USA is the fourth-largest copper producer in the world, following Chile, China and Peru, and that global position is largely attributed to Freeport.
According to the US Geological Survey, U.S. mine production was valued at $9.7 billion, making it an important industry. But when compared to a national GDP of $17.7 trillion (BEA estimate), the industry has much less impact on the U.S. economy than it would in a country like Chile (1% vs 19% of GDP respectively). Still, copper as a metal plays a huge role in infrastructure and is a required input for many other industries within the U.S. economy [see also Copper Stocks To Play The Housing Recovery].
As a country, Australia is the fifth-largest global copper producer. This is largely due to the fourth-largest copper producing company, BHP Biliton (BHP), based out of Melbourne, producing 1.7 million tons in 2014. According to Geoscience Australia, the Australian copper industry is worth approximately $6 billion, making it a prominent industry (4% of GDP) for the country with a GDP of $1.5 trillion. Other metals and natural resources are even more prominent in Australia, including coal, iron ore, gold, meat and wool.
The Bottom Line
Copper is used in a multitude of products due to its metallic qualities as well as its ability to be recycled and used again. Major copper producers exist around the world, with Chile being the world’s largest producer. Major producers are found elsewhere, including the Switzerland and the U.K., although these types of companies usually control mining interests outside the home country. Even if copper does not account for a large portion of a country’s economy, it is a necessity in keeping the global economy moving and the building of new infrastructure.
Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.