* Mining code to be effective in few days
* State through SEM will increase stake in projects
* Strong interest shown in Belinga iron ore project
By Silvia Antonioli
CAPE TOWN, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Gabon’s newly approved mining code, which seeks to attract investors and increase the state’s share in projects in an oft-neglected sector, will take effect in a few days, the head of state mining firm said on Tuesday.
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo signed the new code into law on Jan. 30 and it will become applicable once published in the country’s official journal in a few days, said Fabrice Nze-Bekale, chief executive of Societe Equatoriale de Mines (SEM).
The former OPEC member-state was once dependent on oil which represents about 60 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). However, maturing oil fields and little new discoveries has seen output fall steadily, hitting state revenues.
The government is seeking investments in Gabon’s other mineral resources including iron ore, gold, manganese, diamond and timber, to diversify form crude.
Speaking on the sidelines of a mining conference in Cape Town, Nze-Bekale said Gabon hopes mining will become an important contributor to economic growth from 6 percent of GDP currently to 25 percent in the next 15-20 years.
The government through SEM, will get a free stake of 10 percent of all mining projects in the production phase with an option to buy an additional 25 percent at market value, he said, adding that this will apply to future projects only.
Corporate tax remains unchanged at 35 percent of profit while mining royalty goes from being at a specific level to a series of tax bands for different metals.
“Royalty on gold used to be 5 percent now it will be 3-7 percent, depending on the project. The most difficult projects will have a lower level of taxation,” Nze-Bekale said.
Asked about the country’s Belinga iron ore project, one of the world’s largest untapped reserves, Nze-Bekale said there was an ongoing process to certify the reserves which could take another 18-24 months.
“Then we are going to auction the permits out to two or three strategic partners but it has to big companies because we don’t think junior companies have the skills to develop such projects,” he said.
“We are having discussions with a lot of big listed companies, the big names. Glencore and Rio Tinto for example have shown interest,” Nze-Bekale said. (Additional Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome in Libreville; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by James Macharia)