The oversupply of copper and low metal prices have caused copper producers throughout the world to institute rationalization and cost reduction measures in an attempt to improve their competitive position and profitability. Many operations made changes in their mine plans. Stripping ratios were lowered, pit slopes were increased, mill feed grades were raised, manpower requirements were reduced and wage rates cut, new smelting and refining charges were negotiated downward, and technological improvements were implemented. Some high-cost operations were unable to compete in the world market and were forced to close down. These factors resulted in copper production-cost reductions in many countries, some significant. Other factors were beyond the control of mine operators. In some countries, inflation, exchange rates, government policy, and byproduct prices offset many cost-reduction measures. This resulted in a reordering of the competitive position of the major copper-producing countries in the years 1981 to 1986. Zaire and Zambia, for example, improved their competitive positions, while the United States and Canada saw little or no improvement in their positions. To assess the results of cost-cutting steps implemented by domestic producers as well as the long-term viability of the U.S. copper industry, it is necessary to view these efforts in an international context, measured against the relative success of similar cost-cutting efforts undertaken by other producers and the effects of inflation, currency devaluations, and market trends.
Eng. and Min. J., V. 189, No. 11, Nov. 1988, PP. 38-44