The world's top five iron ore producing countries, Australia, Brazil, India, China, and Russia, were together responsible for the production of more than 80% of global iron ore in 2019

close up view of layers in iron ore_by Simple_Moments

Close up view of layers in iron ore (Credit: Simple_Moments/Shutterstock)

We take a look at the top five iron ore producing countries fighting for share within a market facing a significant slowdown in growth over the coming decade.

Global iron ore production jumped to 2.85 billion tonnes in 2019, but growth is expected to slow to around 3.1 billion tonnes by 2028 — signalling a fall from the 2.9% growth achieved from 2009-2018, to 0.5% for the following decade.

The world’s largest crude iron ore reserves are found in Australia, which accounts for more than 29% of the global total.

China topped the list of iron ore importers in 2019, with Japan a distant second, followed by South Korea, Germany and the Netherlands, according to research from data firm Statista.


Top five iron ore producing countries

NS Energy profiles the BRIC-dominated list of the world’s top five iron ore producing countries, as of 2019:


1. Australia – 930 million tonnes

Australia leads the list of the world’s top iron ore producers, with a usable iron ore output of 930 million tonnes, out of which iron content was estimated at 580 million tonnes, according to US Geological Survey data 2019.

This production is a sizeable jump from the 900 million tonnes generated in 2018, which was driven by iron mining giants Rio Tinto (currently the world’s top iron ore producer) and BHP Group, which are most active in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

More than 90% of the iron ore reserves are located in Western Australia, with Hamersley Province considered to possess a major chunk. As of 2019, Australia recorded 48 billion metric tonnes of crude iron ore out of which 23 billion metric tonnes bore iron content.


2. Brazil – 480 million tonnes

A distant second to Australia in this list of top iron ore producing countries, Brazil, produced 460 million tonnes of usable material in 2018, with an estimated iron content of 250 million tonnes. Brazil bettered this in 2019, by generating 480 million tonnes of iron ore (estimated iron content at 260 million tonnes).

Headquartered in Brazil, Vale is the world’s second-largest (losing top spot to Rio Tinto in 2019) iron ore producing company in the world.

The company’s Carajás mines are believed to hold the highest iron ore content on the planet (67%). As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vale estimates potential output losses to touch 15 million tonnes in 2020.

Carajas Mine — the largest iron ore mine in the world —located in Para, Brazil, is operated as an open-pit mine, estimated to contain 7.2 billion tonnes of iron ore (Credit: T photography/Shutterstock)


3. China – 350 million tonnes

Although only the third-largest in terms of world iron ore production, China is the world’s hungriest consumer. In 2018, its iron ore production was 335 million tonnes, which has seen a modest increase to about 350 million tonnes.

Most of China’s iron ore is used domestically and is usually very low grade, seeing China import more than 70% of global seaborne ore ― especially from Western Australia, which is the world’s largest supplier.

China’s economic activity in 2020 seems to be on the up, despite chaos created by the coronavirus pandemic — which is thought to have originated in the country — suggesting healthy demand for imported iron ore.


4. India – 210 million tonnes

Fourth-placed India witnessed a somewhat insignificant rise in its usable iron ore production, similar to that experienced by China.

Its 2018 production increased from 205 million tonnes to about 210 million tonnes in 2019, according to the US Geological Survey. The iron content in its 2019 production was 130 million tonnes; 4 million tonnes more than the previous year.

India’s largest iron ore mining company, NMDC, was heavily impacted by the coronavirus-based slump, and 2020 production is expected to slide back to about 205 million tonnes. However, production is expected to rebound to 270Mt by 2024.

Layers of iron ore deposits found in the Mullayanagiri mountain ranges in Chikmagalur, Karnataka, India (Credit: DSLucas/Shutterstock)


5. Russia – 99 million tonnes

Standing fifth in our list of iron ore producing countries is Russia. The biggest country in Europe produced more than 96 million tonnes of usable iron ore in 2018, out of which the iron content was estimated to be 56.7 million tonnes.

Production increased the following year to 99 million tonnes, with the corresponding iron content touching 59 million tonnes.

Russia, however, appears to be taking advantage of issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic — such as reduced iron ore production in other countries — by upping its own iron ore exports to woo the world’s steel market. In 2020, its iron ore production is estimated to cross 115 million tonnes per annum.