The century of calling South Africa the world's largest gold producer has come to an end. That distinction now belongs to China.
South Africa was crowned the world's largest gold miner in 1905, and annual output peaked at 1,000 tonnes in 1970. Since that time reserves have shrunk and grades are thinning. Mines are incredibly deep, which adds to the cost of production. The country's estimated production for 2007 was 272 tonnes, a 1% drop from 275 tonnes in 2006.
China, on the other hand increased its 2007 production to 276 tonnes from 240 tonnes the previous year, an increase of 15%. Swelling Chinese output can be attributed to high-grading, or to put it more tactfully, small Chinese operations have the flexibility to go after higher grades of ore when the gold price rises sharply.
Not all numbers are in for 2007, but last year China also beat out the 2006 second-largest gold producer, the United States (251 tonnes). Canada was in eighth place in 2006, with 104 tonnes or 4.2% of world production. The numbers come from Goldsheet at www.GoldsheetLinks.com/production.htm.
Just as South African gold producers must be saddened to lose their No.1 ranking, Canadian uranium producers should be looking over their shoulders. Kazakhstan has announced plans to expand its uranium mining industry and jump past Canada. The numbers for the top three spots in 2006 were: Canada, 9,862 tonnes of uranium; Australia, 7,593 tonnes; and Kazakhstan 5,279 tonnes.
"May you live in interesting times," goes the old Chinese curse. Times are very interesting, as patterns of metal production shift around the globe, but with continuing strong prices there is no need for Canadians to curse their luck this year.