BRUSSELS, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- European salt imports are soaring as icy roads after recent heavy snowfalls continue to pose hazards for motorists and pedestrians.
Chile, one of the largest suppliers, said it was struggling to keep up with demand for salt used for de-icing the frozen roads in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Salt use for keeping transportation close to normal also rose in other European countries amid a continuing cold spell. Denmark's Bornholm Island, cut off for two days by heavy snowdrifts, was slowly returning to normal Thursday.
Transportation authorities reported chaotic conditions on roads elsewhere in Europe.
Sociedad Punta de Lobos, the Chilean salt producer and exporter better known for exports of the commodity to the United States, said its plant is working at full capacity to produce enough salt to meet increased demand from European importers. SPL is South America's largest salt producer.
SPL General Manager Matias Mohr said European salt producers seemed unable to meet the increased demand because of the cold weather and limiting conditions for extraction from underground sources.
Many of the European salt producers were dependent on underground extraction and above ground transportation, mainly through elevators.
"It is impossible to increase the speed. They can only extract up to 15 tons a day and that is not nearly enough," said Mohr, quoted by the Chilean newspaper The Santiago Times.
Mohr said stepped up exports to Europe wouldn't affect supplies to the U.S. market. The North American winter -- which he described as "normal so far" -- wouldn't put demands on the Chilean salt producer's capacity, he said.
It was the first time in recent years that SPL had to deal with an upsurge in demand from Europe, Mohr said, MercoPress reported.
SPL, a unit of the German K+S Group, world's largest salt producer, has headquarters in Santiago but produces salt from an open-cast mine in Chile's Atacama Desert. The company produces sea salt from another facility in Brazil.
European salt producer Esco, part of the same group, is also working at full capacity to meet European demand. Esco has 20 production and distribution sites in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
Esco has headquarters in Hanover, Germany, and employs about 1,300 people. U.S. company Morton Salt is part of the group, which produces about 30 million tons of salt globally.
Global salt demand will rise 2.6 percent annually through 2013, said this year's report, World Salt to 2013: Demand and Sales Forecasts, Market Share, Market Size, Market Leaders.
The report said growth in developing countries will more than offset an expected contraction of salt demand in developed economies -- except in instances where salt is used for de-icing in extreme weather conditions.
The large chemical manufacturing market will generate most new demand, due to rapid growth in Chinese chemical production, said the report.
The study said global salt industry was worth at least $9.7 billion.