November 16, 2016 / 9:12 AM / 2 years ago

For global copper miners, era of going it alone may be over

SHANGHAI, Nov 16 (Reuters) - For global copper miners looking to develop the next big deposit, the era of going it alone may be over.

As costs escalate to develop new finds, often in remote locations, companies should consider sharing the financial and logistical burden of building infrastructure for projects clustered near each other, a senior executive at influential miner and trader China Minmetals Corp said on Wednesday.

“We need to be more open, we need to work with more companies when we work abroad,” said China Minmetals Non-Ferrous Metals Co general manager Xiaoyu Gao, speaking in a panel discussion at the Metal Bulletin Cesco copper conference in Shanghai.

“We need to incorporate a ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy for undeveloped regions,” said Gao, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious drive to build a network of land, sea and air links and opening new trade routes and markets.

While miners often develop multi-billion dollar mines together, it’s unusual to coordinate on the cost of building transportation links and getting power supplies to far-flung sites.

Gao’s comments came as miner MMG, in which Minmetals owns a 74 percent stake, struggles to deal with growing opposition to its Las Bambas mine in Peru where local protests have shut down transportation to the mine.

“In Peru, we’ve been thinking about this issue. If we discover new reserves, we have to go to difficult regions,” Gao said, adding that environmental regulations and a lack of infrastructure often pose some of the biggest challenges.


The comments also reflect growing concern among miners about controlling costs after years of declining prices forced them to tighten budgets, while ore grades at ageing mines fall.

Duncan Wanbald, head of base metals and minerals at Anglo American Plc, agreed at the Shanghai conference that in the era of constrained budgets and complex projects, miners under cost pressure should consider more partnerships to mitigate the risks.

Five years ago, the mining industry spending was some $50 billion a year, but it’s less than a third of that now, Wanbald said.

The recent surge in metal prices on the London Metal Exchange may spur more spending new greenfield projects, said Chilean miner Antofagasta Plc’s Chief Executive Officer Ivan Arriagada.

But there have been few new discoveries of high-quality deposits that would offer the same potential as Escondida, the world’s largest mine, in Chile.

Based on annual global demand growth projections of 2 percent, Wanbald said, the market would need seven new Escondidas by 2030 in order to keep pace with customer requirements. (Reporting by Josephine Mason and Melanie Burton; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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