By Sudarshan Varadhan
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The value of India's copper products exports declined 70 percent in the year ended in March 2019 primarily due to the shutdown of Vedanta Ltd's copper smelter, an industry association said on Wednesday.
Exports of copper and copper products, including cathodes, were $1.07 billion in the period from April 2018 to March 2019, down from $3.48 billion in the 2017/18 fiscal year, according to data from the India's Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC), which is supported by the country's trade ministry.
The government of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu in May ordered Vedanta to shut its smelter in the city of Thoothukudi, the country's second-largest, after police killed 13 demonstrators during protests against alleged pollution at the plant. The site is operated by Sterlite Copper, a subsidiary of Vedanta.
"Sterlite alone accounts for about 40 percent of the country's production. So exports fell due to their shutdown," said Suranjan Gupta, the executive director of EEPC India.
Overall copper exports from India during the April 2018 to March 2019 period were down 70 percent from the fiscal year 2017/18, Gupta said.
Exports to China, one of the biggest importers of copper products from India, fell over 80 percent in 2018/19 from the previous year, he said.
Shreegopal Kabra, managing director of RR Global, a wire manufacturing firm that is one of the largest consumers of copper in India, said he is optimistic about the export potential of products such as cables and wires from India.
"Copper cathode and rod exports have fallen because of the Vedanta shutdown, but the future of exports of products such as wires and cables looks bright," Kabra said, adding that his company saw increased exports of wires in 2018/19.
India has an installed copper refining capacity of 1 million tonnes. Vedanta's Thoothukudi copper smelter has an annual refining capacity of over 400,000 tonnes.
The company is in the middle of a legal battle over the closure of the plant, which has disrupted Asia's copper market.
The two main political parties in Tamil Nadu are against reopening the smelter, increasing the likelihood that the shutdown will continue.
Copper production by major companies including Hindalco Industries Ltd and Hindustan Copper Ltd was about 457,000 tonnes in 2018/19, down 40 percent from about 766,000 tonnes a year earlier, according to government data released earlier this month.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; editing by Christian Schmollinger)