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“Big Four” of Gold Producing Countries

“Big Four” of gold producing countries—South Africa, the United States,Australia, and Canada. For over a century, South Africa was the world’s largest gold producer. Its peak output reached 1,000 tonnes in 1970, which accounted for about two-thirds of total global production in that year. In 2007, however, it produced 270 tonnes, representing 11% of the world total of 2,476 tonnes. One of the main reasons for the country’s declining production is due to the maturity of many core South African operations; after over a century of intensive mining, shallow deposits have been exploited and mines have become progressively deeper and in many cases seen a fall in ore grades.

Deep level mining is labor and technology intensive and, therefore, costly, requiring increasingly rigorous safety measures. Furthermore, the South African industry has experienced a pressing shortage of skilled employees with labor competition from the wider extractives and construction industries.

After reaching peak production in the late 1990s, production from the United States, Australia,and Canada has also been declining. Although output rose during the early part of the decade, low gold prices during this period meant that few new operations were brought into production, as producers were left unable and unwilling to spend capital on exploration, thereby inhibiting output in the latter part of the decade. Many mines were closed as they became uneconomical to maintain. Moreover, many operations were mature by the late 1990s, so the most attractive deposits had already been extracted.