The Namibian (Windhoek)

Namibia: Mining a Balancing Act Between Politics and Money

FINDING a balance between the interests of international investors in mining and mineral host countries will be increasingly challenging, a mining expert has said on the first day of the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba in Cape Town.

"Global miners will have to learn to operate in this more political world," Dr David Humphreys said on Monday. Humphreys, whose experience includes being the chief economist at Rio Tinto, heads an independent consultancy based in London.

Speaking at the Indaba, Humphreys said investors will have to position themselves as partners in the economic and social development of the countries in which they are investing.

Resource nationalism is the new form of mercantilism in the 21st century, he said.

This new thinking is being driven by the polarisation of minerals supply globally and the proportion of mineral supply coming from consumer regions like North America and Europe that has flat-lined in many respects and has been diminishing.

"Historically, the major producers and consumers of minerals were often one and the same - there was an overlap - this provided a clear self interest in consuming countries. Now this is less and less the case, the overlap is diminishing," said Humphreys.

As this trend continues, it is leading to polarisation, he said.

"This has meant that producing countries focus on how minerals become an issue of national security - the trend that we have seen is a growing focus and debate on resource nationalism, while consumers are impacted by a variety of issues, including higher prices.

This can give rise to conflict between nations with resources and those using mineral products, a new mercantilism. There has been a politicisation of mineral production and the securitisation of consumption," Humphreys said.

For producer countries, the focus is now on broader considerations, such as the development of other sectors from the windfall of mineral resources, the impact on income levels in the country, the impact on communities who live in the mining areas, on the country's exchange rate and the environmental impact. Humphreys said this is how the political choice aspect comes in, and the state wants greater involvement.

"Resource nationalism manifests itself in the following ways: we see increases in taxes and royalties, there are more costly and demanding conditions such as the use-it-or-lose-it policies, social investment requirements increase, restrictions on foreign ownership and requirements for indigenous shareholdings."

Humphreys added that state ownership of mines is not at the top of the list of priorities for producing nations.

This is because states view indigenous shareholdings as giving them enough leverage, making state ownership unnecessary.

"In Russia, for example, the state is significantly involved in the oil and gas sector, but you don't see them doing the same in the mining sector," he said.

He quoted an Ernst & Young survey on business risks in mining, which found that perceptions of resource nationalism as a business risk have been on a steady increase since 2009.

In 2009, the industry ranked resource nationalism at nine out of ten risks to doing business; it rose to eight level in 2010, to peak at the number one risk to doing business in the mining sector in 2012.

Calls for the beneficiation of minerals have also been on the rise, as producing countries show an increased inclination to get as much out of their minerals as they can.

This has been prompted by the fact that minerals are finite.

Humphreys cited the case of Indonesia, which "imposed an export tax on raw material exports, published new national ownership requirements and talked of the renegotiation of existing contracts".

The politicisation of mineral production can lead to a better balanced market, which would allay the concerns of mineral consumers, he said.

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