Freeport says Chinese copper demand to grow for over a decade

Wed Mar 19, 2014 1:15am EDT

* China's copper consumption remains robust, says official

* Freeport still in talks with Indonesian government over dispute

By Manolo Serapio Jr

SINGAPORE, March 19 (Reuters) - China's copper consumption will grow for "more than a decade" as demand from the world's top user remains robust despite fears of an economic slowdown, a Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc executive said on Wednesday.

Worries over slower growth in China, which accounts for 40 percent of global copper consumption, helped send prices of the industrial metal to a 44-month low last week, down 12 percent this year.

Still, the long-term outlook remained solid, said Freeport's Javier Targhetta, senior vice president for marketing and sales.

"We are seeing still robust consumption in China. Of course there can be hiccups here and there," Targhetta told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry conference. "I think Chinese consumption of copper will keep growing for more than a decade."

He expected China's import volumes to remain brisk even if its gross domestic product expansion slows to 3-4 percent, while a recovery in the U.S. and European economies should also copper consumption.

"Copper is increasingly needed both in mature and emerging economies," he said.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was trading at $6,470 a tonne on Wednesday, regaining some ground after hitting $6,376.25 last week, its lowest since July 2010.

Freeport, which operates the world's fifth largest copper mine in Indonesia, halted copper concentrate exports in mid-January over a dispute with the Indonesian government on a new tax.

"We are cooperating with the Indonesian government looking for a mutually beneficial outcome of the current situation. We hope to have it resolved soon," Targhetta said.

Freeport and fellow U.S. miner Newmont Mining Corp have refused to pay an escalating export tax introduced on Jan. 12 as part of package of new mining rules aimed at forcing miners to build smelters and process raw materials in Indonesia.

Targhetta said the company's Grasberg mine is producing at half of its capacity, but has not cut any jobs so far.

A union official said earlier this month that production at Freeport Indonesia was cut by around 60 percent. Freeport in February said it may need to declare force majeure on copper concentrate sales at its Grasberg mine.

(Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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