East Congo to ban raw tin ore exports in Jan 2009
By Joe Bavier
GOMA, Congo (Reuters) - Congo will from January force its tin-rich eastern provinces to export only refined ore in a move that has drawn harsh criticism from local mineral traders, a mining official said.
The government wants Congo to be an exporter of value-added metals rather than just raw materials such as tin ore cassiterite. Last year it introduced similar measures in Katanga province, its copper and cobalt mining heartland.
The latest rule targets the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Maniema in the violence-ravaged eastern borderlands, which produce the majority of cassiterite exported from the former Belgian colony.
Currently cassiterite mined in the three provinces is exported as raw ore, most of it by mineral traders in North Kivu's capital Goma.
"Instructions have come down from (Congo's capital) Kinshasa that beginning in January we will no longer export raw minerals, they must be concentrate," North Kivu's provincial mines minister Juma Balikwisha told Reuters late on Wednesday.
The export ban is also expected to cover tungsten ore wolframite, and columbite-tantalite which is used to manufacture mobile phones and personal electronics.
John Kanyoni, president of the Association of Exporters of Minerals in North Kivu, said the January deadline set by the government was unreasonable.
"You can do this kind of thing in Katanga, where the Belgians left behind lots of infrastructure. But we only found out there was tin here a few years ago. There's nothing here," he said of mineral processing equipment.
Delivery of new concentrators could take up to four months, while installation would require another three to four months, Kanyoni said.
Eastern Congo is still recovering from a 1998-2003 war and insurgencies that have left infrastructure in ruins. Ageing power stations are struggling to keep up with growing demands for electricity, and prolonged power outages are commonplace.
Tin futures prices on the London Metal Exchange have almost tripled since late 2006 as Asian demand has bolstered commodities markets, but prices have eased in the past four months as part of the global economic slowdown.
Over the past 1-1/2 years, Congolese authorities have made repeated attempts to regulate the tin sector in the east as part of wide-reaching efforts to boost government revenues.
Mineral traders successfully blocked an attempt by the national customs agency Ofida to triple the reference price used to levy taxes on outgoing cassiterite shipments, staging a two month export strike that ended last month.
Kanyoni, who claims exports from Goma alone have now reached around 3,000 tonnes per month, said if the deadline is not pushed back exporters could again shut down operations.
"We don't think we will just let people play with us like that. We'll stop. There's no other alternative," he said.
Congo, once a major world producer of industrial metals, is reviewing 61 mining contracts, many of which are with big Western resources firms. The review is due to finish on October 15.
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