China's 2019 nickel ore imports from Indonesia jump 72% on year

Jan 31 (Reuters) - China's imports of nickel ore from Indonesia leaped by nearly three-quarters in 2019, customs data showed on Friday, as traders scrambled to ship the material before an export ban from the Southeast Asian nation took effect from the start this year.

While total 2019 imports of nickel ore rose 30% from 2018 to 56.13 million tonnes, imports from Indonesia rocketed 72% to 23.9 million tonnes, according to the General Administration of Customs and Reuters calculations.

Indonesia, the world's biggest nickel ore producer, last September announced it would expedite a ban on exports of the material by two years to Jan. 1, 2020, in an effort to secure supply for its domestic nickel processing industry.

The ban sparked a rush to ship ore out of the country before the end of 2019, notably into China, where nickel ore is mainly used to make nickel pig iron, a raw material for its stainless steelmaking sector, the world's largest.

In December, China's total nickel ore imports rose 60% from the same time in 2018 to 4.32 million tonnes, with shipments from Indonesia jumping 82% year-on-year to 2.47 million tonnes.

However, December shipments from Indonesia were down 26% from November, as Indonesia temporarily banned exports amid the stampede to ship cargoes out.

December imports from Philippines, also a major producer of nickel ore, stood at 1.54 million tonnes, up 24% year-on-year. (Reporting by Mai Nguyen and Tom Daly; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)