Growth of Asian Asbestos Markets 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Revised June 14, 2013

Provisional data released by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) this week1 substantiate allegations that when it comes to asbestos there is no such thing as equality. While developed countries have banned or reduced their use of this acknowledged carcinogen, consumption continues to increase in Asia. In 2011, Asian countries used 1,319,702 tonnes (t) of asbestos; the figure for 2012 has increased by 6% to 1,395,628 t with Asia accounting for a whopping 71% of all global consumption (in 2011 this figure was 63%). Looking more closely at the data we see that within the region there are different national patterns of consumption. While increased usages of 53%, 31% and 30% respectively for India, Vietnam and Indonesia were observed over the last year, significant decreases were recorded for Malaysia (-65%), the Philippines (-39%) and Thailand (-29%) (Table 1).

Table 1. Asian Asbestos Consumption

  2011 2012 % Change
  (tonnes) (tonnes)  
China 637,735 530,834 -17
India 321,803 493,086 +53
Indonesia 124,049 161,824 +30
Thailand 81,378 58,008 -29
Sri Lanka 61,095 54,704 -1
Vietnam 60,424 78,909 +31
Malaysia 6,761 2,350 -65
Philippines 3,245 1,970 -39

Comparing production figures for 2011 and 2012 (Table 2) highlights the cessation of asbestos mining operations in Canada. Although there are now only four major asbestos producing countries, global production remains constant at around 2 million tonnes.

Table 2. Global Asbestos Production*

  2011 2012 %Change
  (tonnes) (tonnes)  
Russia 1,000,000 1,000,000 0
China 440,000 420,000 -5
Brazil 302,300 306,300 +1
Kazakhstan 223,100 241,200 +8
Canada 50,000 0 n/a
Total 2,038,500 1,987,800 -2
*Argentina also produces around 100 tonnes of fiber per year; while India, producing 19,000 tonnes in 2011 and 20,000 in 2012, now moves into 5th place with the collapse of the Canadian industry.

Table 3. Global Asbestos Consumption – Top Five Users*

  2011 2012 % change
  (tonnes) (tonnes)  
China 637,735 530,834 -17
India 321,803 493,086 +53
Russia 251,427 155,476 -38
Brazil 185,332 167,602 -10
Kazakhstan 155,166 5,290 -97
*Indonesia, with an apparent consumption of 161,824 tonnes in 2012, currently occupies 5th place.

In 2012, Russia and Kazakhstan accounted for 62% of total global asbestos production but only 8% of consumption. It seems that while both these countries are anxious to sell their asbestos fiber, domestic markets may be dwindling.2 The fact that global consumption fell by 5% between 2011 and 2012 is not significant especially when, at the same time, the number of countries consuming more than 500t/year increased from 35 to 37. It seems that as long as there is money to be made and no international treaties or protocols that regulate the trade in this hazardous substance, business will continue.

June 9, 2013


1 See USGS datasheets: Asbestos Production, Trade, and Consumption 2011 (revised) and Asbestos Production, Trade, and Consumption 2012 (provisional). Note that apparent consumption totals (global and regional) quoted in this article may differ slightly from those in the datasheets. This is because IBAS ignores negative apparent consumption data when calculating national and regional percentages for a given year. Negative and unexpectedly low apparent consumptions result from unquantifed stockpiles of fiber from previous years, within a given country or region, that can be used for current manufacturing purposes or exported (or both). However, these effects are usually only significant for asbestos producing countries; in such countries unexpectedly high apparent usage figures are most likely due to higher than usual stocks of raw fiber.

2 For evidence of the aggressive role played by Russia in the global asbestos lobby see the article: Rotterdam Convention 2012 – An Activist's Diary.



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