STATE-RUN Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation is interested in importing coal from Zimbabwe, a senior Government official said yesterday. JOGMEC, which is responsible for securing a stable supply of oil, natural gas and mineral resources for the island nation, plans to import as much as 15 million tonnes of coal annually, much more than Zimbabwe is currently producing, Deputy Minister of Mines and Mining Development Mr Gift Chimanikire said in an interview.
"We met in December and they are looking at 15 million tonnes annually," he said.
"What is important now is to capacitate Hwange Colliery and ensure that all special grants that we issued in 2010 are utilised.
"Obviously, we are going to have a big challenge (in terms of capacity and their requirements) but they are prepared to work with us on the production side and also enhancing the railway system to have the product move faster to the Beira port in Mozambique."
Zimbabwe has an estimated 20 billion tonnes of unexploited coal reserves. It was expected to produce two million tonnes last year compared with 2,5 million tonnes a year earlier.
At its peak in the mid-1990s, Zimbabwe produced more than six million tonnes of coal.
Hwange Colliery, the country's largest coal mining company, produces an average of 225 000 tonnes of coal a month, but plans to double output after securing a US$22 million mine equipment supply deal with a Chinese firm.
Zimbabwe's coal industry needs at least US$1 billion in new investment, the Zimbabwe Chamber of Mines told a local weekly paper in November last year.
The chamber said the 25 special grants issued by the Government would significantly improve coal production but this would depend on the company's ability to raise capital.
"We will soon be establishing their potential (of what they are capable of producing)," said Mr Chimanikire, warning those who have not made progress that their cel special grants would be cancelled.
Zimbabwe faces stiff competition from Mozambique, which started coal exports last year.
Tete Province is at the heart of Mozambique's nascent coal rush, with the region endowed with one of the world's richest undeveloped coal reserves.
According to the World Bank, Mozambique could attract investment of up to U$10 billion in various coal projects in the next few years.
In the next decade, the country could produce between 20 and 50 million tonnes annually.
Domestic demand for coal has remained low due poor performance of companies which use coal-fired boilers, while the poor railway system has constrained exports.