Apparently irked over China’s slow progress in developing the Belinga iron ore deposit, the government of West African nation Gabon has been reported mulling to transfer the mine’s exploration and ownership rights to BHP Billiton Ltd., in what could be a winning moment for the latter as it works to branch out its main production base away from Western Australia’s Pilbara region.
The Gabon government has long been eager to start the development of the Belinga iron ore deposits, but has been facing difficulty finding the necessary estimated $A3.85 billion to start the project.
"The Belinga portfolio is being re-examined because it appears the conditions initially accepted were not entirely satisfactory. Discussions are taking place. They are aimed at improving the launch of this project and they are open," Sima reportedly told reporters.
"If they don't reach a satisfactory conclusion, they could lead the state to really relaunch the portfolio but we're not at that point yet. We're at the point of revisiting the text and documents that have been signed in the past."
Discovered in 1895, the Belinga iron reserves are estimated to hold about one billion tonnes of iron ore. Mine construction and development was supposed to have started in 2011, but has been put on hold due to insufficient financing funds.
In 2006, Gabon signed a deal with Comibel, a Chinese mining consortium, to mine the deposits. However, it faced protests on claims the deal had excessively and irresponsibly extended too much tax breaks over the 25-year term to the Chinese group. Ecologists likewise asserted that mining the deposits would trigger an environmental disaster to the country since the reserves are at the very edge of the Ivindo National Park, a rainforest home to forest elephants, western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees.
However, in 2012, Gabon transferred the mining rights to state-owned China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation.
But the government of Gabon has been reportedly dismayed over the status of exploration and development works at the site in the northeast of the country by China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation.
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