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Africa Mining Industry: Congo starts producing copper at joint venture mine

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The copper-mining joint venture between Democratic Republic of Congo’s State miner and two Chinese companies, agreed on in 2007 as part of a minerals-for-infrastructure deal, has produced its first copper, the mines ministry said. 

The Sinohydro Corp and China Railway Group Limited companies have pledged to build $3-billion worth of roads, railways and other infrastructure in Congo in return for a 68% stake in Sicomines, the joint venture in the southeast of the country, Africa’s top copper producer. The chief of staff to the Mines Minister, Valery Mukasa, said production was launched on Friday at a ceremony attended by Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu. China’s State-run Exim Bank is providing most of the financing for the copper mine, which is one of the largest in the world.

While the Congo government has hailed the contract as a model for mining investment, international campaign groups and local activists have criticised it for alleged lack of transparency and concerns that it will burden Congo with unsustainable debt. China has signed several such resources-for-infrastructure deals with African governments in the last decade as it seeks raw materials to fuel its economy. Progress on the project has been repeatedly delayed.

Exim Bank temporarily halted disbursements in 2012 and workers had to pump 160-million cubic metres of water from two pits. Sicomines, has also struggled to secure sufficient energy to power the mine, leading it to reduce its initial annual production target to 125 000 t Congo produced more than one-million tonnes of copper for the first time in 2014. The chamber of mines says production will fall to 974 000 t in 2015, however, due to electricity shortages and the September suspension of Glencore’s Katanga Mining unit.(Source: Miningweekly)

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