* Vedanta CEO says export tax an “economic barrier to mining”
* Sesa says to resume mining in Goa by January to February (Adds industry comments, background)
By Krishna N Das and Manolo Serapio Jr
NEW DELHI/SINGAPORE, Oct 8 (Reuters) - India needs to swiftly remove a tax on iron ore exports, the country’s top private miner of the commodity said, calling the duty an “economic barrier” in the face of falling global prices.
The country’s iron ore shipments have already slowed to a trickle after a ban on mining in key producing states, with a 30 percent tax on exports making it even more difficult to sell to a world market where prices have sunk 40 percent this year.
“There is an urgent need to eliminate the export duty, which represents an economic barrier to mining in the current low price environment for low grade iron ore fines,” Tom Albanese, chief executive of Vedanta Resources that controls India’s Sesa Sterlite Ltd, told Reuters in an email.
Sesa hopes to restart mining in Goa early next year after a decision by the Supreme Court in April 2014 to lift a 19-month mining ban in the state aimed at weeding out illegal miners.
But with global iron ore prices sliding, it makes more sense for miners there to sell to local steelmakers than export. Mining curbs have also forced some Indian steel producers to import iron ore.
The problem is that the iron ore produced in Goa is of little use to Indian steelmakers, many of whom lack the sophisticated plants needed to process the low-grade material.
“Amidst low export revenue and high taxes within the country, it is very difficult for these miners to sustain operational profits,” said Prakash Duvvuri, head of research at Indian consultancy OreTeam.
The 2015 restart for Sesa’s operations in Goa, previously India’s top exporting state, indicates months of delay versus initial expectations for a restart in September.
“Based on recent public comments by the government of Goa, it’s now probably realistic to assume mining to start by January to February at the earliest,” Albanese said in the email late on Tuesday. Albanese was previously the CEO of Rio Tinto , but quit the mining giant last year after the company revealed a $14 billion writedown.
Rio on Tuesday said it rejected a takeover approach from smaller rival Glencore Plc that would have created a $160 billion mining and commodities behemoth, a proposal Glencore made in July as prices of Rio’s top moneymaker iron ore headed to five-year lows.
A surge in global supply, led by top producers Australia and Brazil, has depressed iron ore prices this year to their weakest since September 2009 at around $80 a tonne .IO62-CNI=SI.
That has pushed many smaller producers from Asia to South America out of the market as big, low-cost miners like Vale , Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton dominate.
Before the sustained slump in global iron ore prices, Sesa was targeting a six-fold jump in output in the year to March 2015 after the Goa ban was lifted. Sesa’s mining operations are mostly in Goa.
India used to be the world’s No.3 exporter of the steelmaking ingredient until higher costs along with mining bans in key states Goa and Karnataka slashed shipments. India’s exports to top market China stood at 7.5 million tonnes over January-August, ranking ninth, behind Chile and Malaysia.
Along with existing high taxes and freight charges, India is also planning to increase the royalty on iron ore - or the percentage of sales paid to state governments - to 15 percent from 10 percent. The high costs, Duvvuri said, might force smaller miners in Goa to either sell their mines or close down.
“As far as fresh mineral extraction is concerned, it’s not viable at all. So it’s not a question of what are the margins. Margins are not there,” said Ambar Timblo, managing director of Goa-based miner Fomento Resources. (Editing by Himani Sarkar)