One of many key themes of discussion at the IMFORMED Fluorine Forum, held last week in Prague, was the developing shift in the structure of global fluorspar supply, driven by China’s transition from a net exporter to a net importer of fluorspar.
In a presentation on the current state of the Chinese fluorspar industry, Liao Xinhua, Chairman of the China Non-metallic Minerals Industry Association Fluorspar Committee, highlighted that many of the country’s major mining operations, which have typically dominated production, were beginning to become depleted and that a significant decline in Chinese output is expected in the next 3–5 years.
Whilst there was some focus during the conference on the current health of the global economy and how growth in key demand sectors may moderate in the short term, there appeared to be a general consensus that there was room in the market for additional supply sources, which would be required to help meet future demand.
China is the world’s largest producer of fluorspar and has traditionally been an important supplier to international markets. However, export volumes have been on a general downward trend and in 2018 a sharp increase in imports of metallurgical-grade material resulted in China becoming a net importer of fluorspar, although the country remains a net acidspar exporter at present. As well as a dramatic shift in China’s fluorspar trade relationship with the rest of the world, the market has seen new projects coming online outside of China. These include Canada Fluorspar’s 185ktpy operation in Newfoundland, which began shipments in August 2018 and Sepfluor’s 210ktpy operation in South Africa, which opened officially in August 2019. A smaller project with a capacity for acidspar also came online in Morocco last year. The project, GFL GM Fluorspar SA, is owned by Indian fluorochemical producer GFL but it has been suggested that its North African location means it is ideally positioned to export into the European market.
The 14th edition of the Roskill report on fluorspar, with forecasts to 2029, will be published in November/December 2019.