Could mining in Iran supplant the country's oil business?

Over reliance on Iran's oil sector have hurt mining, says Mehdi Karbasian, managing director of a group pushing for mine development in the country.

"During the past decades, due to the huge investments made in the oil industry. The foundation of the Iranian economy was based on this industry and the government paid less attention to making big investments in other sectors," said Karbasian last month. He heads the Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization.

Karbasian says the mining industry suffers from a variety of ills, such as low railway transportation capacity, low volume of facilities, high interest rates, lack of specialists in extraction and processing. But if the sector gets fixed, the mining sector can help shift Iran's reliance away from oil.

"In my opinion, the mines and mining industry sector in competing with the oil industry can boost the economy and be even a substitute for oil."

The opportunity is there. Iran is ranked among 15 major mineral-rich countries with potential reserves worth $770 billion. As of 2011, Iran had the world’s 9th largest reserves of copper at 32.5 million tons. Still, mining contributes just 0.6 per cent to GDP.

Some Japanese steel firms have entered the country. PressTV reports that executives of Kobe Steel Ltd, Japan’s fourth-biggest steelmaker, and the State-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp (JOGMEC) met officials in Tehran last month and discussed cooperation in Iran’s mine and mining industries sector.

While sanctions were imposed, Karbasian singled out lack of equipment and machinery as being particularly crippling.

"In fact, one of the most important problems in the way of the mining sector in recent years has been non-application of modern equipment and advanced technologies while old and second-hand machineries are being used in many of the mines some of which have been used in other countries for over 50 years."