Rio Tinto's copper chief sees supplies running short by 2020s

SANTIAGO, April 10 (Reuters) - The copper market will slip into a deficit in the 2020s after being in balance for rest of this decade, as major technological change drives demand for the metal and its byproducts, Rio Tinto’s copper chief said on Tuesday.

Copper prices rose 31 percent last year on the London Metal Exchange, spurred by anticipated demand from China and tight supply.

But this year they have struggled to maintain gains, reflecting the realisation that increased consumption from new technologies such as electric vehicles is still in the future.

Arnaud Soirat, CEO for copper and diamonds at Rio Tinto, said the outlook was still positive.

“Tightening supply and solid demand are combining to produce a positive pricing environment,” he told a copper conference in Santiago.

“We anticipate global market supply and demand will keep close to balance in 2019 and 2020,” adding it would slip into a slight deficit in the 2020s.

Chile, the biggest copper producing country, and the mining industry have a challenge to meet demand, he said, as the world experiences a transition to electric vehicles and a more electrified economy.

“In this transition copper and the co-products it makes possible will be more important than ever,” he said.

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