Rio Tinto Group has joined the contest for Zambia's number one copper miner, First Quantum Minerals, which recently ceded 20% of its shares to the Chinese state-owned Jiangxi Copper Company.
A senior executive who was privy to the discussions confirmed that the Anglo-Australian mining giant was looking at several options, including purchasing the entire company, that would put a brake on what many regard as a pending take-over by Jiangxi.
The discussions come amid a shake-up in the global copper market including a move by Chinese companies to take an effective lock on the strategically important central African copper-belt, which spans Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia's Copperbelt province.
Via its Kanshansi and Sentinel mining operations, First Quantum Minerals (FQM) is the largest producer of copper in Zambia, a domain where Chinese companies are keen to increase their stake. The company also has operations in Panama, Argentina, Turkey, Spain and Finland.
The move by Rio, which is looking to increase its copper holdings, would be against the grain as a number of big western players on the Zambian and Congolese side of the copper-belt are exiting in favour of Chinese companies.
On 17 October shares in...