While trade is depressed in many sectors, shipments of Georgia’s prized kaolin, used in applications from ink to paint but mostly in coatings for paper and packaging, were up in February as processors of the fine white clay continued operating as essential businesses.
That’s according to the Georgia Ports Authority, which posted an update about the sector on its website May 6 including comments from some key companies in the industry.
In February, the port handled 7,554 shipping containers of kaolin or China clay — up 3 percent from the previous year even as many sectors were beginning to see effects from the pandemic, which had started in China and was spreading rapidly in parts of Italy and Iran at that point.
During the current fiscal year starting in July and up through February, the ports had handled 58,760 containers filled with kaolin, up 21 percent from the prior-year period.
Much of that was export volume, as Georgia is home to one of the largest kaolinite deposits in the world, running east to west across the state from Augusta to Columbus. By extension, it has attracted or grown some of the largest processing operations, from global companies like Germany’s BASF and France-based Imerys to Sandersonville’s Thiele Kaolin Co. and Macon’s KaMin, which also has a major operation in Brazil. KaMin alone exports 60 percent of its production to 59 countries.
Of course, it could take awhile for any export dip to show up in the data: Georgia’s lockdowns didn’t take place until mid-March, and many countries around the world were hit by manufacturing closures well after the U.S. Another explanation for continued export growth is a lower base last year from a peak in 2018. Georgia exported some $454 million in kaolin during calendar year 2019, down 7.8 percent from $493 million the year before, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Still, officials from Thiele and KaMin interviewed by the GPA seemed to believe their businesses would be resilient throughout the year as packaging continues to be in high demand; grocery store chains have posted sales increases as the coronavirus has kept customers away from restaurants. Read the full report here.