Africa’s push to add value to minerals now a riskier gamble – by Silvia Antonioli (Reuters India – March 6, 2014)

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LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) – African government efforts to force mining companies to process minerals before export may backfire as they come up against weakening commodity prices and investor demands that firms reduce risky investments.

In the last year alone, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Namibia, South Africa and others have hinted at, announced or put in place measures aimed at adding value to minerals exports, which would boost tax revenue, encourage formation of new businesses and add jobs.

But with falling metal prices and a drastic reduction in the capital available for the mining industry, wary companies are increasingly shying away from investment in countries where the rules of the game can change quickly.

“Investment sentiment in the last year has moved against the mining sector, but the governments tend to have a lagging view of how this is going to affect investment in their countries,” said Mike Elliott, global mining and metals leader at Ernst & Young.

“They continue to argue that mining needs to make a bigger contribution to their economies, but you’ll have to see investment severely tail off to make them think they need to attract investment rather that scare it away.”

Consultants say governments could find more targeted and effective ways of adding value to local economies.

For example, they could push local companies that provide services for the mining industry such as logistics, security, catering and construction to become more competitive and then tighten regulation around the procurement of such services, consultant Tom Wilson at Africa Practice suggested.

“Ultimately you can’t turn market forces on their head. You have to figure out where the country has the capacity to fill the need for goods and services and provide some structures that actually help indigenize some businesses,” Wilson said.

The top five mining companies are slashing total capital spending from a peak of about $70 billion in 2012 to an expected $46 billion in 2015, according to Reuters I/B/E/S.

Mining firms have been taking costly writedowns following years of risky bets to pursue growth, and they now need to prove to shareholders they can use their cash more wisely.

“Companies need to decide whether they wish to continue mining in these countries and face what the governments want to do in terms of beneficiation or pull out. And in some cases it will be a pull-out strategy,” said Kevin Goodrem, vice president of beneficiation for De Beers Group.

THE HARD LINE

Zimbabwe, which holds the world’s second-largest platinum reserves after South Africa, has taken a hard line. President Robert Mugabe late last year threatened to stop exports of raw platinum in a bid to force mining firms to process the metal domestically.

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