BHP in talks to delay copper shipments to China due to virus

BHP’s Escondida mine is the world’s largest copper producer located in Northern Chile. (Image courtesy of BHP)

BHP Group (ASX, LON, NYSE: BHP) is in talks with Chinese customers to delay shipments of copper concentrates as the nation extended plant shutdowns to combat the spread of the coronavirus, according to people familiar with the matter.

Suppliers are considering giving buyers in China flexibility on deliveries to discourage them from declaring force majeure, offering them a way out of contractual obligations, said the people, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

BHP’s move offers more evidence of the far-reaching impact of the deadly coronavirus on commodity trade. The company operates Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine, located in Chile. Producers in the South American nation, the globe’s largest exporter of the metal, are already in talks with clients on the deferment of cargoes due to port shutdowns in China as the government fights the outbreak.

“We are working closely with our copper customers as they return from Chinese new year,” a BHP spokesman said in an email. The company was unable to comment on commercial arrangements with individual customers.

Copper prices had slid for a record 14 straight days in London amid mounting concerns the coronavirus will aggravate the slowdown in global economic growth, crimping demand for the metal used in cars, electronic gadgets and construction. Prices rebounded briefly last week but resumed their slide Friday as automakers extended their shutdowns.

(By Yvonne Yue Li and David Stringer)

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