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Indonesia remains China's second-biggest nickel ore supplier despite export ban

Indonesia remained China's second-biggest nickel ore supplier in 2020, Chinese customs data showed on Wednesday, despite the Southeast Asian country's ban on exports of the material.

Arrivals of Indonesian nickel ore into China totaled 3.4 million tonnes last year, the General Administration of Customs reported. That was down 85.8% from 2019 but still second only to the Philippines at 31.98 million tonnes, and ahead of New Caledonia in third.

Indonesian shipments were 1.98 million tonnes in January and February combined, likely the last cargoes to depart Indonesia before the ban came into force on Jan. 1, 2020, although some may have been delayed by COVID-19 curbs.

The data then shows a trickle of Indonesian nickel ore imports in every subsequent month of last year, including 78,245 tonnes for December. Data from Indonesia, which enacted the ban to force more ore domestic ore processing, shows zero nickel ore exports to China for January to November.

China's customs administration and an Indonesian mining ministry official did not provide an explanation but some analysts believe the answer may lie in material being exported as iron ore but imported into China as nickel ore.