NICKEL production is expected to increase by over 8% a year in the next few years despite policy uncertainty that could limit project development, Fitch Solutions Macro Research said in a report.

“We expect Philippine production to continue rising over the coming years although high levels of policy uncertainty could constrain project development, posing downside risks to our forecasts. We forecast nickel production to average 8.6% year-on-year growth over 2020-2028,” Fitch Solutions said in its industry trend analysis published Jan. 8.

It said that the Philippines will regain its spot as the mineral’s top producer due to Indonesia’s nickel ore export ban, which took effect this year. Indonesia hopes to accelerate the establishment of domestic smelters to capture more value than the current practice of exporting ore.

The United States Geological Survey said in a report in February that Indonesia produced 560,000 tons of nickel in 2018, taking the top spot, followed by the Philippines with 340,000 tons.

Fitch Solutions said that most of the Philippine supply will come from SR Metals, Inc., Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc., Nickel Asia Corp., and CTP Construction and Mining Corp. Of these, Nickel Asia will remain the top producer on the back of its Taganito and Cagdianao mine operations.

The Taganito mine site covers the barangays of Hayanggabon, Urbiztondo, Taganito, and Cagdianao in Claver, Surigao del Norte. The total land area covered in its Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) is 4,862.71 hectares.

The Cagdianao mine site is located in barangay Valencia, Cagdianao, in the Dinagat Islands. The total land area of its MPSA is 697 hectares, one third of which is mineable.

Fitch Solutions noted that from 2016 to 2018, nickel production declined by an average of 12% due to the ban on open-pit mining.

The current Environment Secretary, Roy A. Cimatu, reversed some of his predecessor’s restrictions, but some mine suspensions are still in force until miners address concerns raised about their environmental compliance.

Globally, Fitch Solutions is projecting nickel ore production to fall 15.7% due to Indonesia’s nickel export ban.

This is “despite rising production growth in competitor the Philippines as well as steady output in other major producers Australia, Canada and Russia.”

“In the longer term, we forecast global nickel production to grow by an annual average rate of 1.6% year-on-year over 2020-2028, a significant slowdown from the 5.8% year-on-year average achieved over 2011-2019, which was boosted by higher nickel prices at the time and strong Indonesian output before another export ban in 2014,” Fitch Solutions noted. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang