Supply disruptions could boost copper prices -Chile's Cochilco

SANTIAGO, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Chile's state copper commission, Cochilco, on Wednesday raised its estimated 2018 average price for the metal to $3.06 per pound from its previous forecast of $2.95 per pound, pointing to the potential for global supply disruptions in the coming year.

Cochilco Vice President Sergio Hernandez cited a "perception of vulnerability" that he attributed to the large number of anticipated labor negotiations in Chile, the world's top copper producer, and in neighboring Peru.

That, in combination with new Chinese environmental regulations on smelters to counter pollution and curbs on scrap copper imports by the country, is likely to make prices rise more quickly than originally anticipated, he said.

"There are between 20 and 25 collective negotiations expected (locally). If some of them lead to significant strikes that would have a positive impact on prices," Hernandez said.

Given the potential for supply issues, Cochilco predicted a global copper supply deficit of 175,000 tonnes in 2018, versus 67,000 in 2017.

Cochilco expects Chile to produce 5.74 million tonnes this year, up 4.9 percent from the 2017, when a strike at BHP's Escondida copper mine, the world's largest, sharply reduced output.

Production would rise slightly to 5.91 million tonnes in 2019, the agency said in a statement.

Chile's largest producer of copper is state-miner Codelco, the world's top copper producer.

(Reporting by Fabián Andres Cambero, writing by Hugh Bronstein and Dave Sherwood, editing by Chizu Nomiyama)