* Copper from Zambia and Congo disrupted
* All bulk shipments through South African ports hit
* Agricultural, other essential goods exempt (Adds details, quotes)
By Helen Reid and Zandi Shabalala
JOHANNESBURG/LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) – South Africa’s main export terminals will close to mineral exports from midnight, when a nationwide 21-day lockdown to try to contain the coronavirus begins, disrupting copper and cobalt supplies from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
Miners in the African copperbelt, which accounts for more than a tenth of global production, typically transport copper overland to South Africa’s ports, where it is exported mainly to China, the world’s biggest consumer of the metal.
The novel coronavirus that has killed more than 21,000 people globally has roiled markets and disrupted supply chains as governments impose restrictions on movement to curb its spread.
Communications from port authorities showed South Africa’s bulk terminals – ports processing imports and exports of mineral commodities – would shut for the duration of the lockdown.
“All bulk terminals (mineral mining commodities) will be closed,” a note from national port operator Transnet Port Terminals said, according to a shipping agent who asked not to be identified.
Contacted by Reuters, Transnet Port Terminals did not confirm that mineral commodities would not be exported.
The most immediate impact is likely to be on dry bulk freight rates, which are already languishing under the pressure of diminished demand, while amply-supplied copper markets can absorb the disruption unless it gets significantly extended, analysts said.