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Brazil exported US$3.1bn worth of iron ore and related minerals last year, making these the country's sixth largest export, reported NetMarinha news service.
According to data from the development ministry, iron ore exports represent 93.7% of all mining sector sales abroad.
The main export market was China, purchasing 16.5% of Brazil's iron ore sold overseas, followed by Japan, Germany and Italy.
Rio de Janeiro-based mining giant CVRD (NYSE: RIO) was by far the largest iron ore exporter.
Brazil's primary aluminum and chrome exports fell 13% to US$99mn and 42% to US$5mn, respectively, in the same year-on-year comparison. But manganese exports rose 21%.
The iron ore export market outlook for this year is improving, according to CVRD. Contrary to what many mining companies expected, namely that the market would only start to recover in the second half of this year, there is evidence that steel companies are already increasing iron ore purchases.
CVRD's consolidated monthly exports of iron ore and pellets, excluding Ferteco, Samarco and GIIC, hit an all-time monthly high of 10.6Mt in March. The figure brings 1Q02 exports to 26.7Mt, an increase of 3.1% over same-period last year.
"The recovery in demand is taking place sooner than expected," CVRD said in a press release.