WA Premier and state development minister Colin Barnett has officially opened Rio Tinto’s US$11.6 billion Cape Lambert Wharf B facility off the Pilbara coast, marking the end of the first phase of its expansion.
The Cape Lambert port, near Karratha, was initially built to manage 55 million tonnes per annum of iron ore; however the upgrade would push export capacity up to 140mtpa. In conjunction with its Dampier ports, Rio’s iron ore export capacity is now in excess of 290mtpa.
According to the ABC the development made Rio’s export system one of the largest in the world – second only to Brazilian giant Vale’s export chain from South America.
Mr Barnett congratulated Rio and its ongoing commitment to the WA iron ore industry.
“Rio Tinto’s investment in expanding its iron ore export capacity is excellent news for WA and the Pilbara,” Mr Barnett said. “Creation of an initial two new berths and supporting infrastructure will enable Cape Lambert’s annual export capacity to grow to 140 million tonnes now, on the way to 210 million tonnes.”
The Australian reported that Rio expected to decide by the end of the year whether to push ahead with plans for further expansions at the port, which would see its total export capacity increase to 360mtpa.
As the ceremony was held, reports emerged that WA’s exports to China had reached a net worth of $200 million per day; a statistic that defies suggestions of an end to the mining boom.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released findings in early October that showed WA’s exports to China had hit $6 billion in August; a 16 per cent increase on the value of the state’s exports in July, and $2 billion higher than the same period last year.
Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics executive director Bruce Wilson stated that WA’s export future was likely to be prosperous, considering the lower Australian dollar and continuing demand from China.
“Over the period 2013 to 2014, to 2017 to 2018, the bureau projects that Australian export revenues will grow at an annual average rate of 7 per cent to total $293 billion in 2017 to 2018,” Mr Wilson said.
“Growth in export revenue will be driven by two main factors – substantial growth in bulk commodity export volumes, particularly for LNG and iron ore, and a lower Australian dollar.”
Backed particularly by these recent reports, Mr Barnett encouraged Rio to proceed with further expansions at Cape Lambert.
“In my view [China’s steel production] will continue to grow and start to level off around 2020, so this is the decade in which Australia needs to grasp the opportunity to expand its iron ore capacity, and also in other areas like natural gas,” he said.
“We as a government and the companies here are not missing that opportunity; they are going flat out to build projects like this.”