FILE PHOTO: A stacker unloads iron ore onto a pile at a mine located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia December 2, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

SINGAPORE, May 10 (Reuters) – China’s iron ore imports are likely to climb to an all-time high this year, helped by shipments from India and Ukraine, as well as resilient demand in the world’s biggest consumer of the key steelmaking ingredient, analysts and market participants said.

Imports are expected to rise between 15 to 50 million metric tons from last year’s 1.18 billion tons, according to five analysts on the sidelines of an industry conference in Singapore this week, against earlier expectations of a decline.

China bought 411.82 million tons of iron ore in the first four months of 2024, up 7.2% from last year, even though crude steel output in the first quarter fell 1.9%.

Improved logistics in the Black Sea are driving up supplies from Ukraine after two years, while a rebound in iron ore prices from a near six-month low in late March DCIOcv1 is encouraging Indian exporters to ship larger volumes to China, analysts said.

“Export will be definitely higher this year and so is the volume to China because of easing logistics problem in the Black Sea,” said a Ukraine-based iron ore miner at the conference, asking not to be named.

China buys the bulk of its iron ore from Australia and Brazil, with India and Ukraine being minor suppliers.

Brazilian mining company Vale VALE3.SA said it expects Chinese imports for 2024 at 1.170 to 1.180 billion tons.


Arrivals from India will rise to 45 million tons this year from 36.52 million tons in 2023, said an east China-based analyst.

China’s iron ore imports from Ukraine fell to 660,317 tons in 2023 from 17.43 million tons in 2021, customs data showed.

“Exports of iron ore from India have been rising since prices started recovering,” said a Mumbai-based bulk shipping broker.

While China’s steel industry is struggling with declining demand from the beleaguered property sector and awaits measures by Beijing to curb output, iron ore demand is likely to benefit from expected economic recovery in the second half of the year.

Last month, China’s state planner said it will continue to manage crude steel output in 2024, without giving details.

China’s economy grew faster than expected in the first quarter, offering relief to officials trying to shore up growth in the face of protracted weakness in the property sector and mounting local government debt.


Around 90% of steel in China is produced from the blast-furnace and basic-oxygen furnace-based process, which requires iron ore, although Beijing aims to increase the share of steel made from electric-arc-furnaces using steel scrap to 15% by 2025.

While Beijing has yet to unveil the exact timing and scale on its steel output curbs this year, analysts said authorities may not enact stringent control measures as its aims to boost economic growth.

“We believe steel production will be firm in China this year as the effectiveness of (steel output) controls is low because there is less motivation to enforce, and that means resilient ore demand,” said Tomas Gutierrez, head of data at consultancy Kallanish Commodities.

(Reporting by Amy Lv and Naveen Thukral; Editing by Varun H K)