Malaysia extends bauxite mining ban until July to fight pollution

Malaysia is extending its ban on bauxite mining by another three months, effective April 15, in order to clear stockpiles and curb air and water pollution caused by the sector in the past two years, the environment minister said on Friday.

The country emerged last year as a major provider of bauxite after leading producer Indonesia banned ore exports to encourage more processing at home. Existing bauxite stockpiles in Kuantan must be exported before the moratorium can be lifted, the government said. From January to November, Malaysia shipped some 20 million metric tons of bauxite to China, the world’s biggest aluminum producer. That was nearly half China’s total bauxite imports and a sharp increase from 3.25 million tons in the same period in 2014.

But the activity took its toll on the environment and the public quickly turned against the country’s largely unregulated bauxite mining industry, accusing it of turning the waters and seas red near Kuantan, the capital of Malaysia's third-largest state.

As a result, the country’s natural resources and environment ministry imposed a three-month ban early this year and froze new permits for the export of bauxite. While the ban will now last until July, the issuing of export permits will resume as soon as existing stockpiles disappear, minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, according to Reuters.

Malaysian bauxite exports to China are cheaper than those from rivals such as Australia and India, but considered to be of poorer quality. Some of the larger Malaysian miners have recently acquired better quality equipment in response, to reduce pollution and to dig out higher-quality bauxite.