October 19, 2016 / 4:55 AM / a year ago

China sees shift in metals demand to niche markets in five-year plan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s demand for minor metals used in renewable fuels and electric vehicles will continue to rise over the next four years, as consumption of base metals slows, the government said in the latest update of its five-year industry plan.

Demand for zinc, used in construction and infrastructure to protect steel from rusting, could even hit a peak by end-2020, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said in a statement released late Tuesday.

Beijing’s latest iteration of its plan for the non-ferrous industry to 2020 underscored how metals use is shifting from major base metals that have fueled global metals markets and gone into building the world’s second-largest economy over the past decade.

As non-ferrous metals demand growth slows to a “medium-to-slow speed”, niche, high value metals like cobalt, lithium and magnesium used in electric vehicles, lightweight cars and planes, clean energy and the electronics industry will drive consumption over the coming four years, the government said.

The aluminum sector in particular has become bloated in the past few years as smelting output in the world’s top producer has surged, forcing Beijing to take measures to curb excess.

Even so, the MIIT said it expects base metals output will grow over the coming four years even as it strictly controls expansion of new capacity.

The ministry said again it will encourage continued consolidation and boost proven ore reserves by 2020, and increased its target for curbing emissions from sulfur dioxide by 15 percent, up from 10 percent over the previous five years.

The government set output targets for key metals as shown in the below table.

(Numbers are in million tonnes except for gold which is in tonnes. The 2015 figures are apparent demand.)

Metals 2015 2020 2016-2020 2020 Estimated Percent

consumption consumption change in output 2016 change

percent output*

Refined 11.47 13.50 3.3 9.8 6.7 46

copper

Aluminum 31.07 40.0 5.2 40 27.3 46.5

Lead 4.37 4.5 0.6 4.65 5.7 22.6

Zinc 6.71 7.3 1.7 7.1 5.65 25.7

Magnesium 0.532 0.75 7.1 1.3 n/a n/a

Gold 986 1200 4.0 520 n/a n/a

(tonne)

* Thomson Reuters estimates

Reporting by Chen Aizhu, Josephine Mason and Muyu Xu; Editing by Richard Pullin and Tom Hogue

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