With many new projects and expansions anticipated over the forecast period, zinc mining capacity in Inner Mongolia is expected to continue to increase by 11% (124 kt/y) to 1,246 kt by 2022.
Despite being the largest zinc mining province in China, this rate of growth is considerably lower than we expected previously. In this insight, we explore further industry changes over the forecast period taking into account smelting capacity growth which is set to outpace that of mine supply growth.
Inner Mongolia zinc concentrate output is characterised by significant seasonal variations, with many local mines stopping production in the winter months when temperatures can reach -40 degrees in the northern regions of Inner Mongolia. The bulk of zinc concentrate produced by Inner Mongolian based mines are supplied to local zinc smelters or smelters in the northern Chinese market.
Key features of the Inner Mongolian zinc mining market
The Chinese Mineral Resources annual report suggests that China’s total zinc Reserves were 149.85 Mt in 2015, with 28.33 Mt (18.9%) located within Inner Mongolia. Exploration in Inner Mongolia only took off strongly after 2000, much later than Hunan, Yunnan, Shaanxi and Gansu. Most of the zinc deposits are in Chifeng, Bayannaoer, Hulunbeier and Xilinguolemeng.
With large investment coming into the Inner Mongolian market in recent years, local zinc mining production has grown at 8.0% p.a. over the past ten years. The output accounted for 28% of the total production in China in 2017, up from 18% in 2008. Today, there are at least 66 lead-zinc mining operations in Inner Mongolia. Ten deposits are large, 13 deposits are middle-sized and over around 40 the lead-zinc deposits are small scale. There is already a high degree of production concentration, with 27 mines producing more than 10,000 t/y and contributing 745,000 tonnes in total (66% of the province total) in 2017. In 2018, we expect that 32 mines’ output will reach over 10,000 t/y, contributing 845,000 tonnes in total (72% of the province total).
There are several advantages for developers within or looking to enter the Inner Mongolian zinc mining market.
The scale of most of the zinc deposits is larger than in other provinces, which attracts larger companies to the area.
The area of Inner Mongolia is large and the population low, which means i) the cost for obtaining the land-use rights for project construction and tailing dams are lower than other provinces and ii) the permitting process is generally faster.
With the local economy still in the early stages of development, the cost of labour is relatively favourable. However with a low population density and the remote working environment, there can be difficulties sourcing adequate skilled labour. Additionally, smelters are relatively far from the zinc consumption centers and trading areas.
Most mining companies can benefit from discounted enterprise income tax 15% (effective 2011-2020), compared to a 25% rate for most mining companies in other provinces. The policy aims to attract more investment into the region to develop the local economy.
While local zinc ore grades range between 3-4%, the favourable cost and tax regime make it possible for relatively profitable extraction in Inner Mongolia.