Australia’s economy is largely based on its natural resources, with the minerals sector making the greatest contribution to the nation’s exports.
Four of Australia’s states and territories rank in the top 20 mining jurisdictions in the world, according to the Fraser Institute’s latest annual survey of mining companies: Western Australia (fourth), Southern Australia (seventh), Queensland (16th) and the Northern Territory (19th).
These mining jurisdictions demonstrate a high level of investment attractiveness mainly due to their mineral-rich geology, solid infrastructure, stellar economic environment and government support for the resources industry at both the federal and state level.
In the 2018/2019 period, Australia’s minerals exports grew by 26.4 percent over the previous period. Here are the top five most valuable mineral resources exports for the Australian economy; combined they brought in nearly half of Australia’s AU$470 billion worth of exports in the 2018/2019 financial year, as per the most recent data from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
1. Iron ore
Australia is the king of the iron game. US Geological Survey (USGS) information shows it accounted for some 37 percent of global iron production in 2020, well ahead of Brazil in second place. The nation also ranks as the world’s largest exporter of iron ore.
Iron is the definitive base metal, and is used in everything from infrastructure to transportation to advanced technology — meaning Australia and its many iron ore mines in Western Australia have enjoyed a mighty run of economic prosperity as China has leaned into its push for industrialization.
DFAT’s data from 2018/2019 shows that iron ore accounted for over 16 percent of Australia’s total exports in that period, with a value of more than AU$77 billion.
While more western nations around the world are turning away from coal, in Australia the sooty black rock is a source of incredible wealth.
Australia hosts coal deposits across the country, with major operational mines up and down the east coast, including the controversial Carmichael mine in Queensland, which is being developed by India’s Adani Group (BSE:512599,NSE:ADANIENT).
For its part, coal makes up another 15 percent of Australia’s total exports at AU$69.5 billion, with most of it again going to China despite increasingly strict environmental standards. However, simmering political tensions between the two trading partners resulted in China effectively banning Australian coal imports in 2020. And yet, Australia has plenty of other customers as well.
Natural gas is Australia’s third most valuable resource export, earning more than AU$49 billion for the economy with its 10.5 percent share of total exports.
The island continent is home to 14 different basins that yield natural gas. The country has significant natural gas reserves, with much of it locked up in coal seams that require unconventional drilling.
Most of Australia’s natural gas production occurs offshore in the northwest, which has seen an increase in large development projects over the past few years by some of the biggest names in natural gas.
Gold accounted for nearly AU$19 billion in exports in the 2018/2019 financial year in Australia, earning its place as the fourth most valuable mineral export and sixth most valuable export overall.
According to the USGS, Australia produced 320 tonnes of the yellow metal in 2020, making it the second largest gold-producing nation, behind China and ahead of Russia.
Much of Australia’s wealth is founded on gold, with a number of gold rushes triggered in the mid-1800s that supercharged the nation’s development and set it down its path of prosperity through mining. Today most of the top-producing gold mines in the country are located in Western Australia.
5. Aluminium ore
Aluminium ore comes in as the fifth most valuable mineral export from Australia, accounting for 2.3 percent of all exports and earning AU$11.4 billion in 2018/2019. Aluminium is sourced from bauxite, of which Australia has the second largest share of resources in the world.
Aluminium ore is produced from mines in Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Victoria. Refined aluminium metal earned its own spot in DFAT’s list of valuable exports for the country at 16th. Australia’s refined aluminium industry has been struggling under the weight of heavy energy costs associated with smelter operations for a number of years now.
“Australia is one of the world’s most emissions-intensive aluminium producers,” reports the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Renewable energy sources may be the answer to saving the country’s aluminium sector.
And the rest
While the five resources above represent the most valuable mineral exports to the Australian economy, the country sits on significant reserves of almost every mineral you can find on the planet. Other major commodities of significant value to the Australian economy are oil, which is the sixth most valuable resource and ninth most valuable export overall, and copper ores and concentrates, which are the seventh most valuable mineral export and 10th overall.
Wondering where uranium and rare earths are on this list? Despite having 30 percent of the world’s reserves, uranium didn’t rate a mention in exports as its three operational mines only produced 6,613 tonnes of uranium in 2019. And while Australia also ranks as the fourth largest producer of rare earths globally, rare earths production did not rate as a major contributor to the Australian economy.
This is an updated version of an article first published by the Investing News Network in 2019.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
One of the richest nations on Earth, Australia’s economy is built on mineral resources. Here’s a look at the country’s five most valuable mineral exports.