Australia’s 5 Most Valuable Mineral Exports (Updated 2024)

Australia’s economy is largely based on its natural resources, with the minerals sector making the greatest contribution to the nation’s exports at 62.5 percent. What are the top 5 natural resources in Australia in terms of export value?

Five of Australia’s states and territories rank in the top 20 mining jurisdictions in the world for investment attractiveness, according to the Fraser Institute’s latest annual survey of mining companies: Western Australia (fourth), Northern Territory (8th), Queensland (13th) and Southern Australia (19th).

These mining jurisdictions demonstrate a high level of investment attractiveness mainly due to their mineral-rich geology, solid infrastructure, stellar economic environment and government support for the resources industry at both the federal and state level.

Australia exports a wide range of important mineral resources, including precious metal gold, base metals such as copper, iron ore, aluminum and nickel, and energy resources oil, natural gas and coal. In recent years, lithium has also become a major mineral export for Australia.

Despite widespread wildfires and COVID-19 causing business disruptions across the country, during the 2022 to 2023 period, Australia mineral exports reached a record high of AU$466 billion worth of resources and energy fuels. For the 2023/2024 period, that figure fell to AU$417 billion, according to the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, which is forecasting a further decline to AU$366 billion for 2024-2025. "This outlook reflects weaker world demand growth and rising commodity supply — that lowers global prices — and a predicted rise in the Australian dollar against the US dollar," notes Export Finance.

Read on for a breakdown of Australia's five most valuable natural mineral resource exports, iron ore, coal, liquified natural gas, gold and lithium. Combined, they brought in the vast majority of Australia’s export earnings in the 2022/2023 financial year, as per the data from the Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

1. Iron ore

Australia is the king of the iron game. US Geological Survey (USGS) information shows it accounted for 38.4 percent of global iron ore production in 2023, well ahead of Brazil, which came in second place. The nation also ranks as the world’s largest exporter of iron ore.

Iron is the definitive base metal, and is used in everything from infrastructure to transportation to advanced technology — meaning Australia and its many iron ore mines in Western Australia have enjoyed a mighty run of economic prosperity as China has leaned into its push for industrialization.

The Department of Industry, Science and Resources’ data from 2022/2023 shows that iron ore accounted for AU$129.1 billion of export value in that period, and is forecasted to bring in AU$136.7 billion for 2023/2024. Weaker demand out of China, and globally, is likely to dampen demand for iron ore going forward, which led the department to project iron ore export value of AU$82.8 billion for the 2028/2029 financial period.

2. Coal

While more western nations around the world are turning away from coal, in Australia, the sooty black rock is a source of incredible wealth. In terms of Australia’s resource and energy exports, during the 2022/2023 financial period metallurgical coal and thermal coal accounted for an export value of AU$64.4 billion and AU$68.1 billion, respectively.

Australia hosts coal deposits across the country, with a number of new mines under construction and expansion projects underway. However, softer demand for coal going forward is likely to result in a significant decrease in Australia's coal exports over the coming years as the transition to renewable energy continues and financing for new coal projects dries up.

During the 2023/2024 period, export values for both metallurgical and thermal coal are expected to drop to AU$55.7 billion and AU$36.3 billion, respectively, and fall even more sharply by 2028/2029 to AU$35.2 billion and AU$21.2 billion.

3. Liquified natural gas

Liquified natural gas (LNG) is Australia’s third most valuable resource export, earning more than AU$95.9 billion for the economy in the 2022/2023 financial period. The Department of Industry, Science and Resources expects this figure to decline to AU$71.5 billion for 2023/2024.

The island continent is home to 14 different basins that yield natural gas. The country has significant natural gas reserves, with much of it locked up in coal seams that require unconventional drilling. Most of Australia’s natural gas production occurs offshore in the northwest, which has seen an increase in large development projects over the past few years.

Moving forward, several factors are expected to place downward pressure on Australia's LNG export values, including less production from maturing wells alongside a drop in investment; declining use of natural gas as an energy source in favour of renewables; lower natural gas prices; and the rising prominence of US LNG in the global export market. All in, the department projects the value of Australia's LNG exports will fall to AU$44.8 billion in the 2028/2029 financial period.

4. Gold

Gold accounted for AU$25.4 billion in export value in the 2022/2023 financial year in Australia, earning its place as the fourth most valuable mineral export. The Department of Industry, Science and Resources expects this figure to rise to AU$27.9 billion for 2023/2024, before falling to a projected AU$19.7 billion by 2028/2029.

According to the USGS, Australia produced 310 tonnes of the yellow metal in 2023, tying it with Russia as the second largest gold-producing nations, behind China.

Much of Australia’s wealth is founded on gold, with a number of gold rushes triggered in the mid-1800s that supercharged the nation’s development and set it down its path of prosperity through mining. Today, most of the top-producing gold mines in the country are located in Western Australia.

5. Lithium

Lithium comes in as the fifth most valuable mineral export from Australia, earning AU$20.1 billion in 2022/2023. The country is the world's largest producer of the energy metal, putting out 86,000 MT of lithium in 2023, and hosts the second largest lithium reserves at a JORC-compliant 4.8 million MT.

Most of Australia's lithium resources are located in Western Australia, where there are several hard-rock deposits. Lithium mined in the country mainly originates from spodumene, though it can be found in lepidolite as well.

Global economic pressures on consumers have led to shrinking demand for electric vehicles, and in turn, lithium demand and prices are on the decline. The resulting overhang in supply has led to the curtailment of lithium production from Australia's major lithium operations, including Greenbushes, owned by joint venture partners Tianqi Lithium (SZSE:002466), IGO (ASX:IGO,OTC Pink:IPGDF) and Albemarle (NYSE:ALB).

Looking forward, for the 2023/2024 period, the Department of Industry, Science and Resources is forecasting AU$11.3 billion in export value for lithium, and projecting that figure to come in at AU$9.1 billion in 2028/2029.

Other mineral resources

While the five resources above represent the most valuable mineral exports to the Australian economy, the country sits on significant reserves of almost every mineral you can find on the planet. Other major commodities of significant value to the Australian economy are copper, aluminum, oil, nickel and zinc.

Wondering where uranium and rare earths are on this list? Despite having 28 percent of the world’s reserves, uranium export value came in at only AU$844 million for the 2022/2023 period as the country only has two producing uranium mines for the period, Four Mile and Olympic Dam. As uranium demand increases and a new mine supply comes online, that figure is projected to jump to AU$1.2 billion in 2023/2024 and AU$2 billion by 2028/2029.

While Australia also ranks as the fourth largest producer of rare earths globally, rare earths production did not rate as a major contributor to the Australian economy.

This is an updated version of an article first published by the Investing News Network in 2019.

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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