Russians Losing Key Asbestos Market  

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



I’d seen it with my own eyes but hadn’t believed it.1 However, in the aftermath of an explosive article on the news portal of Deutsche Welle (DW), a German state-owned international broadcaster, I’m convinced.2 Last year, Brazil solidified its position as the number one supplier of asbestos to India, toppling Russia into second place. Russia’s reversal of fortunes was first observed in 2022 when Indian import data recorded 169,134 tonnes (t) from Brazil and 145,398t from Russia.3 The slide continued in 2023, with shipments of 160,720t of Brazilian asbestos to India. This news has repercussions that far transcend mere reals, rupees and rubles: let me explain.

Russia has been the world’s most prolific supplier of asbestos since the 1980s when it deposed Canada. For years India – the world’s largest asbestos importing and using country – has been Russia’s most important customer. Geographical factors benefitted Russian exporters who were much closer to this key market than their Brazilian competitors.4 No doubt, Russian asbestos stakeholders will deny the dwindling of its customer base, but considering reports circulated in 2023 of the dire state of Orenburg Minerals – Russia’s biggest asbestos producer – the outlook does not look promising.5

According to articles from August 2023, the impact of the Ukraine war on the asbestos industry’s bottom line has been substantial with Orenburg Minerals losing “almost a billion rubles in 2022” and experiencing a 5-fold decrease in sales volume:

“The company had never encountered such a situation before. Even during the crisis of 2008, Orenburg Minerals JSC was able to achieve an insignificant, but still positive, profit. Most likely, the unprofitability of the enterprise is associated with sanctions imposed by foreign countries against Russia.”6

Discussing the hurdles Russian exporters faced as a result of the Ukraine “military special operation,” Orenburg’s Director Andrei Golm admitted that there were logistical difficulties:

“We are looking for a solution. As for the foreign market, we are currently shipping by rail to China; at the same time, we are resolving the issue of supplying products through this country to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. We are looking for opportunities to establish supplies to Vietnam and Indonesia. We are trying to resolve issues with Iran and Turkey regarding shipment to India, but so far it has not worked.”7

The author of the DW exposé of May 31, 2024 Matheus Gouvea de Andrade also credited the Russian war with the increased prosperity of asbestos producers in Brazil, even though the commercial exploitation of asbestos was declared illegal by Brazil’s Supreme Court in 2017. Asbestos profits are up, as are output, export and employment figures. Between 2021 (US$61.4 million) and 2022 (US$96.6m), there was a 55+% increase in revenue for the SAMA mining company.8 In 2023, sales remained steady at US$95.9m. Observers postulated that the uncertainty generated by the war as well as the international sanctions imposed incentivized Russia’s traditional customers to seek alternative suppliers.9

As of now, it is not known when Brazil’s Supreme Court will issue its verdict on the unconstitutionality of the Goiás State law allowing asbestos mining to continue for export purposes. The increased prosperity of asbestos vested interests will, if past experience is anything to go by, increase the industry lobby’s influence in Brasilia. Commenting on the disturbing lack of clarity, Co-founder of the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA) Fernanda Giannasi said:

“This litigation is not seen as a priority by the Supreme Court and that is creating a very negative situation. The lack of a deadline worries us, as we don't know when the process will end. In the meantime, workers and members of the public in Minaçu are receiving toxic and potentially deadly exposures years after asbestos production was banned. The fact that shipments of this deadly fiber are still being sent abroad brings shame on all Brazilians including the members of our highest court.”10

June 5, 2024


1 According to figures provided by the World Bank, in 2022, India imported 169,134 tonnes (t) from Brazil and 145,398t from Russia. Brazilian exports to India grew by 17% from 144,329t in 2021 to 169,134t in 2022.
Bindu, C. India tweak norms to boost asbestos production; 70 countries ban it. May 22, 2024.

2 Gouvea de Andrade, M. Guerra da Ucrânia alavancou exportações de amianto do Brasil [Ukraine war boosted asbestos exports from Brazil]. May 31, 2024.

3 Kazan-Allen, L. Global Asbestos Trade 2023: Spotlight on India. September 28, 2023.
World Bank. India Asbestos imports by country in 2022. Accessed June 2, 2024.

4 Generally speaking, shipments from Brazil’s only operational asbestos mine– the Cana Brava chrysotile mine in Minaçu, Goiás State – go from the Port of Santos which is 8,000+ nautical miles from the Port of Mumbai while the distance from Black Sea Ports is 4,300+ nautical miles.

5 Official Indian trade data for the year 2020-21, showed that Russian asbestos exports to India (195,419t) were more than 2.5 times as much as those from Brazil (72,385t).

6 Предприятия Оренбуржья Находят Новые Рынки Сбыта [Enterprises in the Orenburg Region Find New Markets]. August 3, 2022.
Khrustalev, K.Градообразующее предприятие «Оренбургские минералы» в 2022 году показало убыток почти в миллиард рублей [The city-forming enterprise Orenburg Minerals showed a loss of almost a billion rubles in 2022]. August 10, 2023.

7 Андрей Гольм рассказал о работе «Оренбургских минералов» в условиях санкций [Andrei Golm speaks about the work of Orenburg Minerals under sanctions]. December 3, 2022.

8 The owner of the SAMA mine is Sama Mineração S/A which is a subsidiary of Eternit S/A.

9 Gouvea de Andrade, M. Guerra da Ucrânia alavancou exportações de amianto do Brasil [Ukraine war boosted asbestos exports from Brazil]. May 31, 2024.

10 Email from Fernanda Giannasi received June 5, 2024.



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