PHILIPPINE nickel ore shipments are seen to decline by 25 percent to 30-35 million wet metric tons (WMT) in 2018 as nickel producers shift to higher-grade ore to compensate for price drops in the world market, the Philippine Nickel Industry Association (PNIA) said on Tuesday.

In a news conference in Quezon City, PNIA President Dante Bravo said his group expected “exports this year to be [fewer] than what we saw last year, because the price of low-grade nickel now is weak.”

The Philippines is the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore after Indonesia. China buys most of the country’s nickel output.

Last Friday, the price of nickel on the London Metal Exchange fell to an eight-week low of $13,830 (P739,352) a ton. It has lost nearly 5 percent this month, caught in a selloff of risky assets amid deepening trade tensions between the United States and China.

Ronald Recidoro, executive director of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CoMP), said the US-China trade war would directly affect the country, noting that the mining sector continued to reel from the Duterte administration’s continued anti-mining stance, canceled orders, and the ban on open-pit mining.

Last year, the country’s nickel mine production fell to a six-year low of 230,000 MT after the government suspended or shuttered some mining operations, data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) showed.

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte warned he would soon stop mining in the country because of the environmental damage it has caused.

Mining stakeholders have an ongoing dialogue with the government on the plan to ban open-pit mining, according to Bravo, also the President of Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc. (FNI).

The ban would not affect the nickel industry, as extracting the mineral does not require an open-pit approach, he explained.

“We are supportive of the President and his concern about responsible mining. Whatever the program of the government to improve the industry, we are very supportive,” Bravo said.

“At the same time, we hope to be recognized for our contribution, be understood better, and what we do that we are very serious about environmental compliance,” he added.