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(Updates with analyst’s comment in 10th paragraph.)
Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd.’s Zimbabwean unit proposed that an independent arbitrator be approached to resolve a dispute over ownership that could see the company lose its license to mine in the country.
Zimplats Holdings Ltd. Deputy Chairman Muchadeyi Masunda said he held “constructive” talks with Empowerment and Indigenization Minister Saviour Kasukuwere earlier today. The Minister on Sept. 6 notified Impala, the world’s second-largest platinum producer, that he had asked the Mines Minister to cancel the company’s license for failing to submit an acceptable plan to transfer control to local black Zimbabweans.
“We agree that it’s not possible and not in anyone’s interests to stop operations at Zimplats,” Masunda said in a telephone interview from Harare, the capital. “We have never said we are opposed to empowerment, but what we need is clarity on a given policy and predictability on the policy.”
Zimbabwe, which has the world’s second-biggest reserves of platinum and chrome after neighboring South Africa, wants all foreign or white-owned companies to submit plans to sell 51 percent stakes in local assets to black Zimbabweans. More than 50 mining companies may lose their permits as their ownership proposals aren’t acceptable, the state-controlled Herald reported today, citing Kasukuwere.
Impala’s operating licence hasn’t been canceled and talks “between management and the relevant authorities in this regard are ongoing despite the Minister’s letter of 6 September 2011,” the company said in an e-mailed statement today.
Johannesburg-based Impala is the biggest investor in Zimbabwe’s mining industry and could invest as much as $10 billion more to expand its output, Chief Executive Officer David Brown said last month.
“The only major area of disagreement is the implementation, in its current form, of the Release of Ground Agreement of 2006,” Impala said today. “The government acknowledges the existence and validity of the agreement, but wants to renegotiate certain terms.”
Zimplats agreed with the government in 2006 to release a portion of its mining claims in exchange for a combination of black empowerment credits and cash. Impala said in a June statement that year the area contains 99 million ounces of platinum, palladium, rhodium and gold.
The ground is “valuable” and can be turned into a profitable open-pit mine, Brown told investors in Johannesburg last month.
Deficit or Surplus
Impala’s dispute may affect global platinum supplies, Walter de Wet, head of commodity research at Standard Bank Plc, said today in a note.
“Lost supply from Zimplats could be the difference between a platinum market remaining in a deficit next year and a possible surplus,” De Wet said. While forecasting a 75,000- ounce shortage in 2012, the bank sees a “real risk” of excess supply if U.S. and European economies go into a recession, he said.
Zimbabwe will probably produce 350,000 ounces of platinum next year, or 6 percent of global mine supply, according to Standard Bank. Anglo American Platinum Ltd. is the world’s largest supplier of the metal.
--Editors: John Viljoen, Alastair Reed
To contact the reporters on this story: Godfrey Marawanyika in Johannesburg at email@example.com; Carli Lourens in Johannesburg at firstname.lastname@example.org
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