Deals signed in recent months that have the potential to reinvigorate Jordan’s phosphate exports could bring a new source of growth to its manufacturing sector, following a year of mixed results.
Exporting to eastern markets
In mid-March the country’s sole phosphate producer, state-owned Jordan Phosphate Mines Company (JPMC), announced a sales contract with a group of Indian firms to provide 5.2m tons of phosphate ore – a raw material used in the production of fertilizer – in 2017.
Though its value has yet to be made public, the deal stipulates that sales prices will be set in line with prevailing global market conditions.
The agreement builds on existing trade relations between the two countries. In 2015 Jordan inaugurated an $860m sulphuric acid plant at Eshidiya, 325 km outside of Amman, through a joint venture between JPMC and the Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative partly aimed at helping meet India’s growing demand for phosphate.
Further good news for the industry came in February, when JPMC signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Bangladesh to export 270,000 tons of phosphate and phosphoric acid over three years – a deal valued at $280m. The agreement revives a partnership between the two nations, with JPMC having been the chief supplier of fertilizer to Bangladesh in the past.
Under the terms of the agreement, JPMC will supply the country with 150,000 tons of rock phosphate and 120,000 tons of phosphoric acid. According to government figures, Bangladesh already imports 150,000 tons of rock phosphate from Jordan.
Jordan is also exploring the possibility of exporting diammonium phosphate, the most widely used phosphate fertilizer, to the country.
Drops in production and export
Efforts to maintain supply agreements with foreign buyers and strike new deals come on the back of a downturn last year in production and export volumes for fertilizer and the raw materials involved in its manufacture: potash and phosphate.
While phosphate production rose by 34% to 7.1m tons in 2014 and to 8.26m tons in 2015, last year saw Jordan’s output of the compound decline by 3.4% to 7.99m tons. Figures from January, however, show a strong start to 2017, with yield up 15.8% year-on-year (y-o-y) to 565,200 tons, according to the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ).
In terms of potash, production reached a four-year high of 2.35m tons in 2015, an increase of 12.9% over the previous year. As with phosphate, however, 2016 saw output fall close to 2014 levels at 2m tons.
Fertilizer production, meanwhile, rose by 30.6% to 886,000 tons in 2014, before declining gradually to 619,400 tons in 2015 and to 547,400 tons last year, as per CBJ figures. Nonetheless, the segment also showed signs of a rebound in January, registering an 18.1% y-o-y upswing in output to 56,600 tons.
The drops in production volumes were mirrored by last year’s export data, with phosphate shipments down 17% to 308,420 tons and potash down 30.5% to 301,694 tons. Fertilizer sales volumes decreased by 12.5% to 132,523 tons.
Again, the first month of this year brought more positive results, with phosphate exports increasing by 7.3% y-o-y to 21,702 tons and potash up by 65.2% to 31,580 tons. Meanwhile, fertilizer shipments in the same month more than doubled y-o-y to 26,288 tons.
Global markets, local context
Much of the downturn in production and export numbers in 2016 could have been the result of the low-price environment seen throughout much of the year.
According to Amer Al Majali, chairman of JMPC’s board of directors, the regional price of crude phosphate fell by 16% between the start of 2016 and early November, with those of phosphoric acid and phosphate fertilizers down by 29% and 27%, respectively.
However, many analysts expect global phosphate prices to rebound throughout 2017, buoyed by rising demand. A report released in February by research firm MarketsandMarkets forecast global phosphate demand would increase by 9.6% over 2016-21, reaching a value of $75.1bn.
Rising demand and prices, coupled with the new partnerships recently cemented with some of Jordan’s South Asian partners, could bring new opportunities for growth in both the downstream and upstream segments of the fertilizer supply chain.
Oxford Business Group