, VI Conference of BRICS Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies

Font Size: 
The Boom and Bust of Iron Ore Extractivism, 2005-2015: Role of the Brazil-India- China Nexus
Markus Kröger

Last modified: 2018-12-13


This paper explores the recent commodity ‘supercycle’ or ‘paradigm’ of 2005-2015 through a regionally situated global study of the iron ore and steel production. Political economic analysis of data gathered through field research in Brazil and India between 2010-2015 offers novel insights that allow exploring whether and how politics at the points of extraction, such as resistance by locals, affect world political processes, such as the price of iron ore and steel. These resources are crucially important for all would-be global rising powers. The study shows how India and Brazil are, together with Australia and China, in a league of their own in the world of iron ore extraction. Iron reserves and production are concentrated in five countries, these four and Russia, which together accounted for 81% of world production in 2012. However, importantly, Indian production did not grow markedly after 2008, when major resistance to its expansion began, and the rise was also not nearly as rapid in Brazil as forecasted. Blockages caused by resistance to major new greenfield mining projects (e.g. Vale’s Apolo project in Minas Gerais in Brazil, NMDCs Rowghat project in Chhattisgarh in India), the closure of existing mines all around India, and disturbance of exporting activities in Brazil partially influenced global iron ore production. In contrast, the absence of such mining politics in Australia and China partly explains why their production continued to boom after 2010. During the 2000s, the world’s steelmaking capacity almost doubled, which also meant that the demand for iron ore and coking coal almost doubled.

By 2012 there was a rapid increase in mining investment, but also restrictions on exports (India raised the tax on exports of iron ore lump and fines to 30% at the end of 2011). Generally, steel prices have correlated with iron ore prices, but in 2008 there was a huge dip in steel prices, while iron ore prices rocketed. This suggests that historical relations between iron ore and steel had changed. The study suggests that in 2008 iron (export) became a better business than steel-making. The iron ore boom has meant that mining tycoons have been able to reap “fast, immediate and large profits” through violence geared against locals and the repression of resistance, as the new wealth has been turned into political power via funding the government. This specificity of very high profit margins, providing a lot of capital to the targets of resistance, has meant that in the iron ore boom “[resistance] has been more difficult to organize than in other industries (such as dams) where profits come later.”

When the global iron boom hit the Indian political economy, there ensued rampant and illegal mining, rapid expansion to sell as much as possible, and the appearance of new players, such as speculative land grabbers and capitalists who had no prior experience in mining, but were looking for fast money-making possibilities. As a side effect, conflicts spiralled to new levels. In Brazil, the boom led to record high profits for Vale, who controlled most iron ore extraction and exports, the entrance of new players, speculative capital and destructive projects in new areas, and the building of new infrastructures. Many of these expansions were resisted (but not as notably or deeply as in India), and many checked, some even discontinued by resistance.



Brazil; India; China; Iron Ore Markets; Commodity Supercycle

Full Text: PDF