June 15 (Bloomberg) -- BHP Billiton Ltd., the largest mining company, Minmetals Resources Ltd. and First Quantum Minerals Ltd. are stepping up copper exploration in Zambia after prices for the metal more than doubled over the past two years.
“We are currently actively seeking more titles in the country,” Ian Maxwell, president of BHP Billiton minerals exploration, said today at Zambia’s first mining conference, in Lusaka. “We intend to build our position in this country.”
Zambia has become Africa’s largest copper producer since privatizing state-owned Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines Ltd. 10 years ago. Copper helped fuel a 7.1 percent expansion in the nation’s economy in 2010 after rising Asian demand for the metal drove up prices. Copper rose 111 percent from 2009 through 2010 in London, and now trades above $9,000 a metric ton.
“There’s going to be some pretty large discoveries made in the next few years here and we want to be part of it,” said Marcus Tomkinson, a copper commodity team leader for a member of the Minmetals group. Hong Kong-based Minmetals Resources, a unit of China’s biggest metals trader, has opened an exploration office in Lusaka, Tomkinson said at the conference.
The country’s plans to double copper output by 2020 have attracted mining companies from Canada to Europe. Vancouver- based First Quantum intends to invest $1 billion in a new mine called Trident on the nation’s northern copper belt, while Swiss commodities company Glencore International Plc has earmarked $512 million to expand its Mopani mine.
Zambia may produce about 750,000 tons of copper this year, up from 713,000 tons in 2010, Mines Minister Maxwell Mwale said on state television yesterday. It’s targeting 1 million tons by 2015 and 1.5 million tons by 2020, Mwale said at the conference today. Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane said in February Zambia could produce as much as 2 million tons by 2015.
Vedanta Resources Plc, a London-based copper and aluminum producer, has invested $2 billion expanding mines and processing plants Zambia in the past six years, the company’s Konkola Copper Mines unit said today in an e-mailed statement.
There has been a “flood of investment into Zambia after privatization,” Mwale said, adding that more than $400 million has been spent on exploration in the past 10 years.
“Zambia is a key location for us in our global search for copper resources,” BHP’s Maxwell said. It’s an “attractive and low-risk” country, with a competitive and stable fiscal regime, he said.
--Editors: Amanda Jordan, John Viljoen
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