China September Li2CO3 imports down, LiOH exports up

  • Market: Metals
  • 10/26/21

China's lithium carbonate imports in September fell sharply because of an escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic and a month-long labour strike at Albemarle's Salar De Atacama salt flat in Chile, while lithium hydroxide exports continued to rise in response to buoyant demand from downstream industries outside of China.

China imported 3,569t of lithium carbonate in September, down by 32pc from a year earlier and by 57pc from July. A 135-member "Albemarle Salar" union comprising half of the workers at the Salar production plant, which processes brine into lithium-rich brine, went on strike in August for one month, after a labour contract deal between the two parties was reached. The strike and the escalated pandemic in the country delayed shipments and reduced China's lithium carbonate imports in the month, according to Chinese consumers.

The average import price in September was $7.58/kg, up by 81pc on the year and by 10pc from August.

China imported 59,219t of lithium carbonate in January-September, up by 85pc from the same period of 2020. Chile was the biggest exporter, accounting for 79pc of the total, followed by 19pc and 1pc from Argentina and South Korea respectively, customs data show.

Robust demand from the main downstream industries — particularly lithium-ion batteries used to make electric vehicles, computers, and communications and consumer electronics — bolstered imports over January-September for lithium carbonate.

Li hydroxide exports keep rising

China's lithium hydroxide exports surged to 7,482t in September, up by 45pc from a year earlier, and by 2pc from August. The average export price was $10.66/kg, up by 26pc on the year, and by 10pc from August.

The country exported 53,793t of lithium hydroxide during the first three quarters of 2021, up by 41pc from the previous year. South Korea was the biggest importer for China's lithium hydroxide, accounting for 58pc of the total, followed by 38pc and 1pc to Japan and Singapore, respectively, with the remaining 3pc going to countries including India, the UAE and the Netherlands, customs data show.

Downstream demand from battery manufacturers outside of China, mostly in South Korea and Japan, has strengthened on anticipation of increasing demand, in particular from the electric vehicle sector.

China's lithium hydroxide exports Jan-Sep 2021
YearExports (t)y-o-y ± %Monthly Average Price ($/kg)
Jan 20216,331.047.08.6
Feb 20214,880.0258.08.7
Mar 20214,769.05.08.5
Apr 20215,707.013.08.7
May 20216,130.03.08.9
Jun 20217,118.064.09.0
Jul 20214,064.010.09.9
Aug 20217,312.092.09.7
Sep 20217,482.426.010.7
Total53,793.441.0
— China Customs
China's lithium carbonate imports Jan-Sep 2021
YearImports (t)y-o-y ± %Monthly Average Price ($/kg)
Jan 20215,495.3153.84.5
Feb 20217,164.8173.74.5
Mar 20216,481.259.94.9
Apr 20218,970.985.95.5
May 20218,577.8211.25.4
Jun 20216,145.910.46.3
Jul 20214,495.9226.66.4
Aug 20218,318.1145.16.9
Sep 20213,569.1-32.07.6
Total59,219.185.0
— China Customs

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