January 25, 2016 / 12:25 PM / 3 years ago

Congo state miner signs MOU with Chinese firm to raise copper output

KINSHASA (Reuters) - A Chinese mining company has signed an agreement with the Democratic Republic of Congo state mining company Gecamines to build two factories, hoping to boost dwindling copper production by around seven times, Gecamines said Monday.

Workers at Tenke Fungurume, a copper mine in the southern Congolese province of Katanga, check bundles of copper cathode sheets ready to be loaded and sent out to buyers January 29, 2013. REUTERS/Jonny Hogg

Gecamines and the China Nonferrous Metal Mining Company (CNMC) signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding on Jan. 13, Gecamines’ interim director-general Jacques Kamenga told Reuters.

Negotiations were ongoing and it was unclear when a final contract might be signed, he said.

Under the initial agreement, CNMC would build factories at two existing mines in southeastern Congo, he said, that could boost the current annual output of 15,000 tonnes of refined copper by more than 100,000 tonnes.

The first factory, in the town of Kambove, would process 35,000 tonnes per year of copper cathode while the second, at the company’s flagship Deziwa mine in Kolwezi, would process 80,000.

Gecamines’ copper production peaked close to 500,000 tonnes annually in 1986 but has tumbled since the 1990s due to political upheaval, mismanagement and the sell-off of assets to private investors like Swiss-based Glencore and China’s Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Co, Ltd..

The company produced just 15,000 tonnes of copper in 2014 and was on track for a similar output in 2015, according to Central Bank statistics in September.

Gecamines first announced a “strategic cooperation agreement” with the Hong-Kong listed CNMC last June to discuss future collaboration on five unspecified projects in Congo’s southeastern mining heartland.

Congo is Africa’s leading copper producer, having mined more than 1 million tonnes of copper cathode and concentrate in 2014.

The country’s chamber of mines expects production for 2015 to dip slightly because of electricity shortages and Glencore unit Kamoto Copper Company’s (KCC) 18-month production suspension, announced in September.

Reporting By Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and Katharine Houreld

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