China’s Iron Ore Imports Soar to New Heights in 2023


The dry mass market benefited from increased China’s iron ore imports, particularly ton-mile demand. Shipbroker Banchero Costa stated in its most recent weekly report that “2023 was a very positive year for global iron ore trade.”

According to AXS Marine vessel tracking data, global iron ore loadings rose by +4.9% year over year in 2023 to 1,628.4 million tonnes, up from 1,552.2 million tonnes in the same period in 2022.

It also slightly exceeds the previous all-time record of 1,594.3 million tonnes loaded from January to December of 2021. Australia’s exports rose by +0.7% year over year to 913.2 million tonnes in Jan-Dec 2023, easily setting a new record high. Brazilian exports increased to 362.2 million t in Jan-Dec 2023, a y-o-y increase of +7.9

Canada’s contribution increased by 6.9% year over year to 58.9 million tonnes. India experienced a y-o-y increase of +175.7% to 43.3 million tonnes. Volumes from South Africa fell 1.1% year over year to 52.0 million t in 2023.

The shipbroker claims that “demand has been weak everywhere but in Mainland China.” Jan-Dec 2023: Iron ore imports into Japan fell to 94.9 million t, a -5.4% year-over-year decrease. To 70.7 mln t, volumes into South Korea decreased 1.8% year over year.

Volumes to Malaysia decreased -10.5% year over year to 20.5 million t. From January to December 2023, imports into the European Union fell by 9.1% year over year to 71.8 million tonnes. The lowest level since 2020.

Global Iron Ore Trade Hits Record High in 2023, Fueled by Robust Chinese Demand

Volumes were up 7.5% year over year to 14.1 million t to Bahrain. But imports to Oman fell 6.0% year over year to 12.3 million t. Imports to Saudi Arabia reached 9.2 million tonnes, up 4.2% year over year.

“Mainland The world’s biggest importer of iron ore is by far China. Currently, 74.2% of the world’s imports of iron ore come from China.

From January to December 2023, imports into China reached 1,200.1 million tonnes, a new all-time high, up +4.9% year over year. The country’s imports of iron ore fell by -3.8% year over year in 2021 and then by -0.1% year over year in 2022, before experiencing a positive growth in 2023.

Between January and December of 2023, the bulk (66%) of iron ore volumes into China were loaded onto Capesizes (130,000–220,000 dwt), followed by 21% on VLOCs (above 220,000 dwt). Only 5% were loaded onto Post-Panamaxes, 5% onto Panamaxes, and 3% onto Supramaxes.

The shipbroker stated that the following are the principal iron ore import terminals in Mainland China: Caofeidian (121.0 mln t stocked in Jan-Dec 2023), Rizhao (96.9 mln t), Tangshan/Jingtang (95.2 mln t), Ningbo/Zhoushan (113.2 mln t), Tianjin (81.8 mln t), Lanshan (81.5 mln t), Dongjiakou (62.5 mln t), Zhanjiang (62.5 mln t), Beilun (51.6 mln t), Fangcheng (51.1 mln t), Huanghua (49.3 mln t), Qingdao (45.7 mln t), and Majishan (43.0 mln t).

Distances have gotten better last year in terms of the sources for China’s imports of iron ore. Australia holds a commanding 64% market share from January to December 2023, making it China’s primary supplier of iron ore.

Australia Dominates as China’s Primary Iron Ore Supplier, Despite Minor Dip in 2023 Imports

Australia’s imports of iron ore to China from January to December 2023 totaled 770.1 million tonnes, down -0.0% year over year from 770.4 million tonnes in the same period in 2022.

Port Hedland (463.6 million t) was Australia’s top loading port for iron ore goods to China in 2023, followed by Dam Pier (134.0 million t) and Port Walcott (124.7 million t). With a 21% share from January to December 2023, Brazil is still in second place.

From Jan. to Dec. 2022, Brazil’s imports to China climbed by 7.5% year over year to 251.4 million tonnes, from 234.0 million tonnes in Jan. to Dec. 2022.

In 2023, Ponta da Madeira accounted for 115.4 million t of iron ore cargoes loaded into China, with Sepetiba coming in second with 64.1 million t and Tubarao third with 34.9 million t.

In Jan-Dec 2023, volumes from South Africa decreased by -3.2% year-over-year to 30.2 million t. To 37.2 mln t, volumes from India increased by +252.8% year over year. The shipbroker concluded that volumes from Canada increased by +29.3% year over year to 17.3 million t.