Colombia wants to enter the world copper market

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The South American country has so far focused its mining activity on coal and gold, but taking advantage of the potential in other resources, it wants to intensify copper exploration and production activities

Silvana Habib, president of Colombian Mining Agency, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Bogota, Colombia

Reuters | Luis Jaime Acosta

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Colombia will seek in the coming years to enter the world copper market without neglecting its coal and gold production, as part of a plan to diversify its mining matrix making it more efficient and profitable, said the president of the National Mining Agency.

Read in english: Colombia quiere entrar al mercado mundial de cobre sin descuidar el carbón ni el oro

The South American country has so far focused its mining activity on coal and gold, but taking advantage of the potential in other resources, it wants to intensify copper exploration and production activities.

"We have the potential, but we are an unexplored country in terms of copper, we are located in a favorable geological environment, the Andes Mountains, we share that copper belt that neighboring countries have and are more advanced in copper," president of the National Mining Agency Silvana Habib told Reuters on Thursday.

Colombia has only one copper mine in operation in the jungle state of Chocó, in the northwest of the country, with a yearly  equivalent production of 10,000 tons, and operated by the Canadian company Atico Mining.

But recent geological studies detected the presence of metal in states such as Antioquia, Córdoba, Cesar, La Guajira and Nariño.

There are currently three exploration projects. One in Córdoba by Cordoba Minerals, another in Antioquia from AngloGold Ashanti and one more in Chocó from the company Minera Cobre, of which First Quantum Minerals is a part.

Initial estimates include a projection of measured and indicated resources close to the three million tons reported by exploration companies, and more than one million tons in copper reserves, Habib said.

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"Copper is about to be explored and we want it to become important. We want to start seeing each other in the ranking of copper producing countries in the short and medium term," the official said in an interview. "We want to move from a copper exploration stage to a country with proven reserves and to bring investors with assembly and production projects."

Habib said that a ruling by a high court whereby popular referendums in the communities cannot ban projects involving mining and hydrocarbon extraction gave investors more legal certainty.

The official also said that the dialogues of the communities with the companies about the projects, added to the speeding up of the licensing procedures and the transparency in the processes of awarding titles, have been well received by the investors.

Habib revealed that companies like First Quantum are already in copper projects, others like Codelco of Chile, have their eyes set on Colombia.

But while the country advances in exploration and consolidates assembly and production projects in copper, it will maintain its dynamics in coal and gold.

Colombia, the fourth world coal exporter, expects a production of 84 million tons for 2019, similar to last year despite the fall in international prices, while expecting an extraction of 35 tons of gold.

Habib revealed that in coal the country has proven and probable reserves of 1,927 million tons that, with an annual production of 90 million, would be enough for 20 years. To this figure is added resources of 3,758 million tons, which if certified as reserves would mean another 40 years.

"Coal will continue to be our strategic star mineral and we cannot forget its importance for Colombia," she said. Coal is the second largest generator of foreign exchange for exports to the Colombian economy after oil.