LONDON, June 4 (Reuters) – West African neighbours Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia should work together to resolve a dire lack of rail, port and power infrastructure that has held back the region’s mining ambitions, a senior Liberian government official said.
Sam Russ, deputy minister of operations at the ministry of mines in Liberia, said the region should collaborate on export links to make the most of major iron ore deposits, pointing to potentially lucrative cooperation with Guinea to the north.
The billions of dollars required to build rail or road have frozen many West African iron ore projects and rendered others all but impossible in an environment of uncertain prices and tough access to cash. Russ told an investor conference in London that cooperation could help resolve that.
“Our economies are certainly too small to take on these massive investments. If we think about collaborating, we can do a lot,” Russ said, pointing to the proximity of some deposits.
Key for Liberia – an emerging iron ore producer but also one of the region’s least explored destinations – would be cooperation with Guinea. That could, he said, help unlock the potential of Guinea’s giant Simandou mine and benefit Liberia.
“The Guinean government seemed more open to discussions,” he said of a mining industry meeting earlier this year, adding signals had since been “more positive”. The two would have to agree on issues including tariffs, routes and other key issues.
A WAY OUT
Mining companies hoping to work in Guinea’s south, including those tapping the Simandou deposit, have for years studied the possibility of exporting through Liberia – a shorter route to the sea, instead of following a far longer route to Conakry.
But Guinea has long been cold on the idea of exporting through Liberia, hesitating to hand control of key infrastructure to a neighbour.
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