Iron ore is set to be the first commodity to exceed $100 billion in export earnings in a single year, according to the latest Resources and Energy quarterly report.

The March report from the Office of the Chief Economist said the iron ore result was part of an overall $299 billion in resource and energy exports expected in 2019-2020.

While the quarterly report generally attempts to look beyond immediate issues to consider underlying, long-term factors that affect resource and energy markets, it noted that COVID-19 was a “rapidly evolving issue”.

The report said the iron ore earnings boom could not be credited purely to “price growth”.

“(This would) miss decades of careful work, investment, innovation and automation, all of which have driven significant improvements in productivity and scale, placing Australia at hear heart of the global iron ore market,” the report said.

“Australia now accounts for more than half of all global iron ore exports.

“This makes Australia crucial to the global economy itself, since steel is a vital input to energy, infrastructure, housing, construction, transportation and all forms of machinery.”

Pilbara Ports Authority figures from March showed that the Port of Port Hedland achieved a monthly throughput of 47.2MT, of which 46.7MT was iron ore. This was an increase of 29 per cent from March 2019, when the port was closed because of Tropical Cyclone Veronica. Iron ore throughput was 42.1 million tonnes in March 2018.

The Australian has reported that crude steel production in China was up to pre-coronavirus levels, citing a report from commodity forecaster MySteel, which indicated the country’s economy had started to rebound.