(Adds more comments from Wei, Jinchuan and background)
BEIJING, March 7 (Reuters) - China’s copper demand will grow by at least 6 percent in 2012 given the power sector’s unflagging appetite for the metal, the chairman of the country’s second-largest producer of the metal said on Wednesday.
The average price for copper this year would be about $8,500 per tonne, as higher production costs support prices, Wei Jianghong, chairman of Tongling Nonferrous Metals, told reporters on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament in Beijing.
Wei’s forecast for demand growth in the world’s top copper consumer is less than the 7 percent expected by Jiangxi Copper , China’s top copper producer, but higher than the 5.9 percent forecast by state-backed research firm, Antaike.
Benchmark three-month copper contract prices on the London Metal Exchange have risen more than 9 percent this year, and were at $8,293.25 a tonne at 0310 GMT on Wednesday.
Wei said Tongling would produce more than 900,000 tonnes of copper this year, but gave no figure for 2011 output.
China produced 5.18 million tonnes of refined copper in 2011.
The country’s third-largest copper producer and top nickel producer, Jinchuan Group Ltd, plans to boost copper production to 600,000 tonnes this year and leave nickel production at 130,000 tonnes, its chairman Yang Zhiqiang told Reuters on the sidelines of the same event in Beijing on Wednesday.
Jinchuan planned to produce 500,000 tonnes of copper in 2011 and 130,000 to 140,000 tonnes of nickel.
Tongling’s Wei said he saw copper demand from the power sector staying strong this year.
Though he predicted that this year China would see the slowest growth in copper consumption since 2008 in percentage terms, he added that growth in volume terms would not be the weakest due to a higher base.
State-backed research firm Antaike has forecast real consumption of refined copper — the amount used to make products — in China to rise to 7.76 million tonnes in 2012 from 7.33 million tonnes last year, which was itself a rise of 7.8 percent on the year.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday cut his nation’s 2012 growth target to an eight-year low of 7.5 percent, weighing on global copper prices. (Reporting by Gabriel Wildau; Additional reporting by Kang Xize; Writing by Polly Yam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)