Congo’s State Miner Plans 45% Growth in Copper Production

Democratic Republic of Congo’s state mining company Gecamines plans to boost copper output 46 percent this year even as it’s still seeking funding for new projects, Chief Executive Officer Ahmed Kalej Nkand said.

Part of the production may come from a deal with Trafigura Beheer BV, the world’s second-largest minerals trader, to process a copper tailings stockpile at Gecamines’ Lupoto mine, Nkand said in an interview on April 21 at company headquarters in Lubumbashi, capital of Congo’s mineral-rich Katanga province.

“There’s still some preparation work” on a processing plant, he said. “Once we’ve finished that we can start operations,” producing about a monthly 3,000 metric tons of concentrate over 33 months, Nkand said.

Gecamines was once one of the world’s biggest copper miners, shipping 476,000 tons in 1986, until years of mismanagement and war in Congo almost destroyed the company. This year it’s set to produce 60,000 tons of copper, up from 41,000 tons a year earlier, Nkand said. Copper prices are down 9.4 percent this year to $6,667.25 a ton by 8:13 a.m. in London.

“It will be a great challenge because of electricity problems” and a 300-megawatt deficit forcing the country to ration supply to mining companies, he said.

A plan to build a 500-megawatt coal plant hasn’t yet reached the feasibility-study stage, a year and a half after the company first announced the development, Nkand said.

Dispute Settled

Gecamines is also trying to find financing for its fully owned Deziwa and Ecaille C mining concessions, among Congo’s largest with 4.85 million certified tons of copper and 401,900 tons of cobalt reserves. “It’s a dream concession,” Nkand said.

The company took control of the project, which may eventually produce 200,000 tons of copper a year, after settling a dispute with its former partner in January 2013.

Congo was the sixth-largest producer of copper last year, according to CRU Group, and the largest producer of cobalt, a mineral used in rechargeable batteries. Most production came from projects run by Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore Xstrata Plc, and London-based Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. Gecamines has minority stakes in joint ventures with all three miners.

The company has put on hold its plan to sell its 20 percent in Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Co. to finance Deziwa’s development, Nkand said. “Given the moment, given many parameters, it wasn’t interesting to make that transaction,” he said.

Congo’s mines ministry and several national and international non-governmental organizations complained about the company’s plan to sell the stake in KCC, currently Congo’s biggest mine. That led former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to appeal to Congo’s government in November to ensure the sale process meets international standards of transparency and accountability.

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