Alumina exports to Russia surge as others avoid sale to Moscow

Alumina exports to Russia surge as others avoid sale to Moscow

THE SURGE in India’s import of Russian crude oil has come under the spotlight, but a sharp pick-up in India-Russia trade in another commodity has largely been under the radar. India’s exports of aluminium oxide, or alumina, to Russia jumped to 2.58 lakh tonnes in April-February of financial year 2022-23 (FY23) from nil in the corresponding period of FY22, latest available data with the Indian commerce ministry shows.

Like in the case of crude oil, shifting global trade flows in the aftermath of Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine is largely behind this trend.

As a major producer of aluminium, which is used in a wide array of industries, Russia is a major alumina consumer. Alumina is mainly used in the production of aluminium metal, but is also used as an abrasive due to its hardness and as a refractory material due to its high melting point.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, Russia was cut off from major supply sources like Australia and Ukraine after both countries decided not to supply alumina to Moscow. In fact, Australia, while banning alumina and bauxite exports to Russia said it was doing so as these were “key components in the manufacture and development of weapons”. In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Australia has sided with the US and other major Western powers and has participated in various economic and trade-related sanctions designed to punish Moscow.

To fill the gap left by absent alumina supplies from Australia and Ukraine, in came other suppliers such as China and India. The rapid rise in the commodity’s supply to Russia has made it the third-biggest buyer of Indian alumina by volume as well as value, replacing China. In fact, alumina was the top commodity exported to Russia from India by volume. Alumina exports to Russia in April-February were worth $89.87 million, and in value terms, the commodity stood third among all items exported from India to Russia, the trade data shows. By volume, India’s alumina exports to Russia accounted for 14.4 per cent of total exports of the commodity, while by value, their share was 12.7 per cent.

The commerce ministry releases commodity-wise and country-wise trade data with a lag and so far, data till February has been released. Data for March and the full financial year 2022-23 is expected to be released in the coming weeks. The data is for Harmonised System (HS) code 281820, which refers to “Aluminium oxide other than artificial corundum”.

Prior to the war in Ukraine, Russia was importing around 2.75 lakh tonnes of alumina from Ukraine and Australia each month with the lion’s share being consumed by state-owned aluminium major Rusal, as per S&P Global Commodity Insights. In February, India supplied over 63,540 tonnes of alumina to Russia, partly filling the hole left by Ukraine and Australia. Among Indian companies involved in alumina production, public sector player National Aluminium Company (NALCO) is the biggest exporter. In value terms, India’s alumina exports to Russia in February were worth $21.47 million.

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