Indonesia probes possible illegal nickel ore exports to China

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials are investigating whether there have been illegal nickel ore shipments to China, more than three years after Jakarta banned exports of the commodity, its mining minister said on Friday (Jul 7).

Indonesia, the world’s biggest nickel ore producer, had stopped exports of the material since the beginning of 2020 to reserve raw material supply for its domestic stainless steel and battery-grade nickel production.

The policy had boosted the value of its nickel product exports to over US$30 billion in 2022 from US$1 billion in 2015, Indonesian government officials said.

However, data from China’s customs office showed the country still imported nickel ore from Indonesia after the ban – 5.56 million metric tonnes between 2020 and May 2023.

China is the world’s biggest nickel user.

Indonesia’s customs office and the mining ministry are looking into possible illegal exports of the ore, Arifin Tasrif, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister told reporters.

“We are collecting data and verifying them. There are requirements that must be met to conduct exports, so how did the ore slip out?” Arifin said. He did not confirm the estimated size of the ore exports.

He said investigators were looking into the possibility of discrepancy in the categorisation of products reported by exporters, among other potential cause.

Analysts and traders believe the material has been exported as iron ore but imported into China as nickel ore, which typically has high iron content.

Indonesia’s statistics bureau data showed only less than 2 metric tonnes of nickel ore were exported from Indonesia from 2020 to 2022, compared to 32 million metric tonnes in 2019 alone.

Source: Reuters/px