All That Glitters

China is now the world’s biggest gold miner. South Africa had boasted that title since 1905. But no longer. China mined 4 tonnes more in 2007 (276 tonnes vs 272 tonnes), says London precious metals consultancy GFMS, enough to vault it into top spot.

It is already the world’s leading producer of aluminum, zinc and lead; the second largest of tin; and among the top 10 in copper, nickel and silver.

China and South Africa mined 22% of the world’s yellow metal last year between the pair of them. Though China’s gold production has grown 70% in the past decade, South Africa’s has halved, Stricter safety regulations and rising production costs have made it a tougher business, even though price of gold has hit record levels. The same is true for other leading producers, such as Australia, Canada and the U.S., one reason that world gold production fell 1% last year.

China, meanwhile, has a large number of small-scale mining operations that are not over-troubled by safety regulations. Silicosis in miners from uncontrolled silica dust and arsenic and cyanide waste run offs from the mines are chronic problems.

GFMS notes that demand for gold, particularly for jewelry, grew strongly in China last year. And on the investment side, the Shanghai Futures Exchange has just launched the country’s first gold futures contracts, which should give Chinese companies even more influence over world gold prices.

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