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Description | Overview | History | Copper producing countries | Indian copper market | Major trading centers

Copper is an element, reddish brown in color, having atomic number 29 and pertaining to the scientific symbol ‘Cu’. Coming from the same family of silver and gold, this element shares numerous common characteristics with those precious metals. This element is a highly ductile and malleable element and a very good conductor of electricity. That is why it is highly used in the electrical appliances as a thermal and electrical conductor and in building wires. It occurs in various minerals on earth and is also forms part of a lot of alloys. Copper also has characteristics that it is a creep and corrosion free metal and all of its so very useful features make it an element on which the world’s economy directly depends.


Copper is a very important element and the oldest known commodity in the world that directly affects the world’s economy. It stands at the third place in context of the world consumption after steel and aluminum. It is largely used in electrical appliances, as it is the cheapest metal, which is a good conductor of electricity. It is also considered safe as a raw material in wire making. Alloys of copper like bronze, brass, monel and speculum metal are also very popular and are extensively used throughout the world.

Copper is an element that has a universal availability and is found worldwide especially in the volcanic areas possessing high levels of sulfur concentrations. In fact about 90% of the world’s copper deposits are located in the great basin of the western United States, Zambia, central Canada, the Andes region of Peru and Chile and some regions of Antarctica too! The production of refined copper hovers around 15 million tons annually. The leading copper producing nations are United States and Chile, both having 18% shares in the total world’s production. The leading country in which copper is refined is United States of America. The consumption of copper stands at the third position among the most consumed metals in the world after steel and aluminum. The consumption of this metal is concentrated in the highly industrialized countries namely

  • Western Europe (29%)

  • United States of America (19%)

  • Japan (14%)

  • Russia (10%)

  • China (6%)

The percentage given above denotes the % consumption of the total world’s consumption. The consumption trend is on a rise with the increasing contribution of the countries in Asia like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. There are various factors that influence the demand and supply of copper in the world such as the technological, social and technological factors. This is the demand for copper that governs the findings of new mines and the expansion of old mines. Only 17% of the total copper produced in the world is available for trading. The major copper exporting nations include

  • Chile

  • Indonesia

  • Canada

  • Australia

The largest copper importing countries of the world includes

  • Spain

  • China

  • Germany

  • Philippines


The name copper is derived from the greek word ‘chalkos’. It is also related to the Greek mythology as it is said that it was associated with the goddess Venus.

The origination of  this oldest known metal, copper, is not exactly known to the human race but it is estimated that it was discovered in around 9000BC in the middle east. A copper locket had been found in Iraq that is around 8500 BC old. Smelting, one of the processes that is used to refine copper, dates back to around  4500BC and the smelting sites were located in the areas of present day Israel, Egypt and Jordan at that time. This metal was also used to make weapons, hammers and axes. The people in Egypt discovered that by adding tin to copper, the casting of the metal becomes easier. the metal was getting popular in the east mainly in China and India. China started the process of hydrometallurgy in which a metal is separated from its alloys. Indian people made various other crafts by using alloys of copper like icons and lamps. The importance of this very useful metal was identified and it was so extensively used that the respective era of history is named as The Bronze Age (2500BC-600BC).

The inventions of new technologies in the east were adopted by whole of the world. It was found that copper is a corrosion free substance and then it marked the invention of a new use of copper-in plumbing systems and protecting wooden ships from algae. Ships of Christopher Columbus too, use to have this copper guarding. With time, more and more new uses and new techniques to extract copper were invented.

Copper coins have also played an important role in the history as a medium of currency. The earliest instance found of copper being used as a currency was in the form of lumps in the 6th century BC by the people of Italy. The shape of copper lumps were molded to coins with the invention of new copper alloys. Rulers like Julius Caesar and Octavianus use to have their own coins having their own symbols. This shows that copper has ever been a prominent contributor to the all of the various aspects of history, culture, technology and medicine and is still used extensively.

Copper producing countries

Copper is extracted from its ore that is mineral form such as sulfides and carbonates. Although copper ore is found throughout the world, the major countries that produce copper ore are

  • Chile

  • United States of America

  • Canada

  • Russia

  • Zambia

  • China

  • Poland

  • Zaire

  • Indonesia

  • Australia

  • Peru

  • Kazakhstan

  • Mexico

  • Argentina

  • Brazil

  • Korea

  • Iran

  • Mongolia

  • Saudi Arabia

  • Sweden

The ore mines are located both on land as well as in the deep seas and it is estimated that the total world resources of copper account to around 2.3 billion tons. The total production of refined copper in the world figures up to 15 million tons. The maximum share in this production figure is constituted by Chile and United States contributing to 18% each. Canada, Russia and Zambia follow Chile and United States with 8%, 7% and 5% share respectively. Copper can also be extracted from its waste scrap and it contributes to a large extent in the world’s total production. The major sources of copper scrap are United States of America and European Union. The refining process of ore of copper is complicated and may not be done at the place of production. The following are the eight leading ore refining countries, which account for around 67% of the total refined copper production

  • United States

  • Russia

  • Japan

  • Chile

  • Canada

  • Zambia

  • Belgium

  • Federal Republic of Germany

Production of copper in India

India is not a major producer of copper ore but it produces the refined form of copper. It contributes to about 3.5 to 4% of the world’s total production of copper that sums up to a figure of 6 lakh tons. India is indulged in importing copper ores from the ore exporting countries of the world and extract copper out of them as there is a shortage of copper mines in the country. The production of copper in India is dependent on these imports only. Three companies in India largely handle production of copper from its ore. They are

  • Birla copper

  • Sterlite Industries

  • Hindustan Copper ltd

Among these three countries, Hindustan Copper ltd forms part of the Indian public sector and the other two belongs to the private sector.

However, small quantities of copper that is produced in India are extracted from the copper mines situated at Khetri and Malanjkhand areas of the country.

Indian copper market

India does not provide a big market for copper. Due to shortage of copper mines and a low percentage of productivity of copper in the mines, India suffers a loss in the level of production and it has to completely depend on the copper ore imports. Also, not many companies are indulged in the refining and extraction of copper from its alloys and ores.

India produces copper from the imported copper ore that accounts to around 6 lakh tons of production. This production level is contributes to a mere 4% share in the total copper production in the world. Indian market is divided into three parts i.e. primary and secondary. Primary segment comprises of the producers that convert copper ore into refined copper. Three companies namely Hindustan Copper ltd, Birla Copper and Sterlite Industries constitute this primary segment. Secondary segment comprises the producers that manufacture value added products made from copper like wires, foil etc.

The domestic consumption demand of copper is around 5.5 lakh tons in the country. A major percentage i.e. 10% of the total consumption in India is contributed by the two major tele-communication providers namely BSNL and MTNL. The rest of the demand is contributed by the construction and automobile sector.

India has always been an importer of copper ore to satisfy the domestic consumption demand. The countries from the ore is imported into India are

  • Chile

  • Indonesia

  • Australia

  • Canada

But, due to the rise in the production of the three major players in the Indian market, the country is now emerging as a net exporter. The production of copper has significantly during the last few years that has enabled India not only to satisfy it is own domestic demand but export refined copper in small quantities. The prices of copper in Indian market are highly dependent on the prices in London Metal Exchange.

Market Influencing Factors

  • Price fluctuations of copper in London Metal Exchange

  • Production level of copper in the world

  • Growth prospects of the major copper consuming countries of the world

  • Growth prospects of the various consuming sectors in the market

Major trading centers of copper

Copper is an important commodity that is traded mainly in

  • London Metals Exchange (London)

  • New York Mercantile Exchange (New York)

  • Shanghai Futures Exchange (China)

These commodity exchanges direct the world market in the context of prices.

In India, copper is traded in the commodity exchanges namely Multi Commodity Exchange of India ltd, National Multi Commodity Exchange of India and National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange.

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