Global demand for primary aluminium is expected to grow by about 6 per cent a year to 2020 with producers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) playing a central role in meeting market needs, according to Canada’s Rio Tinto Alcan.

Rio Tinto Alcan chief executive officer Jacynthe Cote said the GCC will play an important role as a net exporter to meet global demand over the next decade, but faces the challenge of continuing to provide a stable supply of energy at competitive rates.

“Middle East producers stand to benefit from competitively priced energy and will continue to attract investment in new capacity,” she says.

China has become the world’s largest producer and consumer of primary aluminium, but growth in Chinese production is unlikely to have a significant impact on the global export market, she says.

“Chinese smelters have continued to track internal demand… China will not become a destabilising market force as a net exporter of primary aluminium,” says Cote, speaking at the CRU World Aluminium conference in Abu Dhabi on 30 April.

Cote says demand will be driven by the continued urbanisation and industrialisation of emerging economies, which fuels the need for larger living spaces, transportation, packaging and electronic consumer goods.

Although demand is forecast to be robust over the medium term, prices have yet to recovery from the global economic crisis. London Metal Exchange aluminium is trading at just over $2,000 a tonne, which is higher than around $1,300 in mid-2009, but still below the pre-crisis peak of $3,000.

Cote said prices had recently taken a downwards turn on concerns over slow growth in China and fears of an economic bailout in Spain.

Rio Tinto Alcan holds a 20 per cent stake in the Sohar Aluminium smelter in Oman.