Brazil will overtake Australia and regain its position as the world's top iron ore exporter in 2017 after a giant new Amazon mine owned by Vale SA starts operations, Vale's investor relations chief said on Tuesday.
The reversal will be sealed by the addition of new mines in Brazil, including Vale's 90 million-tonne-a-year Serra Sul mine at its Carajas complex in Brazil's northern Amazonian state of Para, investor relations director Roberto Castello Branco told investors in Rio de Janeiro.
Serra Sul is expected to start operations in 2016.
While Rio de Janeiro-based Vale remains the world's largest producer of iron ore, Australia, led by BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd, used its proximity to China, the largest consumer of iron ore, to overtake Brazil in 2008 in the 1-billion-tonne-a-year seaborne market.
Vale, the world's second biggest mining company, and other Brazilian iron ore producers such as MMX Mineracao e Metalicos SA, Cia Siderurgica Nacional and Ferrous do Brasil have struggled to expand iron ore production as quickly as Australian rivals.
Half of the 400 million tonnes of world iron ore exports expected to be added by 2015 will come from Australia and only 30 percent from Brazil, according to Ferrous, which plans to increase output sixfold to 17 million tonnes by 2017.
Brazil, which once had about half the seaborne market, now has about a third and Australia about half.
Ferrous does not see Brazil regaining its top spot from Australia. In 2015, Brazil is expected to export about 444 million tonnes or a third of the seaborne market, according to Ferrous and Barclays. Other Ferrous estimates put the total at 370 million tonnes.
In 2015 Australia is expected to export 693 million tonnes or half of the world total. The addition of 90 million tonnes from Serra Sul would still leave Brazil in second place.
Brazil's environmental laws are some of the world's toughest and its bureaucracy is slow. Getting clearance for new mining, rail, port and other infrastructure projects can take as much as two years longer in Brazil than in Australia, Jaime Nicolato, chief executive of Ferrous do Brazil, said in July.
Vale, which is partially controlled by the employee pension fund of Banco do Brasil SA, a government-controlled bank, is reluctant to criticize Brazilian bureaucracy or environmental laws. Castello Branco said the company needs to improve its own planning systems.
"We don't like to blame others for our failure to secure an environmental license (to open a mine)," Castello Branco said, referring to the notoriously slow Brazilian bureaucracy. "We have highly competent teams that are proactive and eager."