NEW YORK U.S. miner Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc (FCX.N) said, on Wednesday, that excess global smelter capacity means it will have buyers for the copper concentrates it sells into Japan, where twin disasters of March 11 shuttered numerous metal processing plants.
Japan is one of Freeport's biggest customers, buying about 22 percent of its copper concentrates. The world's largest publicly-traded copper miner vowed to work with its Japanese customers as they restore operations that were halted by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters Mining and Steel Summit, Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson, said, "We value our Japanese partnerships greatly. We've had a great supplier/customer relationship where they've worked with us in times when we've had difficulties."
"I've been in contact with their senior executives expressing concern," he added.
In the earthquake's aftermath, Mitsubishi Material's (5711.T) Onahama copper smelter, with 300,000 tones of output per year, was halted by power outages. On March 14, it declared force majeure on copper ore shipments.
Separately, Dowa Holdings' (5714.T) Kosaka copper smelter was halted for checks.
Freeport's Japanese customers were supportive several years ago when a pit wall caved in at its giant Grasberg copper mine in Indonesia and operations were suspended for several months, said the CEO said.
"So, we are working co-operatively with the affected smelters in Japan," he said.
He added, however, that significant excess smelter capacity meant other customers would take the copper concentrate it sells to Japan.
"That will give us and others in the industry the ability to have a market for our copper concentrate even though certain smelters in Japan may have their production affected for some period of time," the executive said.
Though Japan has been Freeport's largest copper concentrate customer, Adkerson added, "Over time, we have diversified. We have important customers in Korea, India, the Philippines, and China. And our Chinese business is growing."
Freeport sells concentrates from its Grasberg mine and some out of South America into Japan.
The Phoenix-based miner will soon announce a contribution to the relief effort in Japan and to its employees there, said Adkerson.
"We really feel for the people there. After living in New Orleans during Katrina, you get a particular sensitivity as you watch what the people are going through there, because you've seen it in your own city."
(Reporting by Carole Vaporean in New York; )