Congo set to overtake US as world no 4 copper producer

The likes of Glencore, Randgold, Zijin, China Moly and Ivanhoe appear to have been blindsided by Congo’s determination to push through a new mining code that substantially increases the cost of doing business in the central African nation.

Lobbying of President Joseph Kabila (who insisted that the CEOs personally show up in Kinshasa for talks) that lasted six hours ended with no concessions other than that the miners’ concerns “will be taken into account through a constructive dialogue” after the law is promulgated.

Those negotiations kick off on Wednesday, but the mining companies’ hopes of more favourable case-by-case “transitional arrangements” or significant concessions in the detailed regulations (which need to be produced within 90 days) also seems faint.

The DRC will be the fastest growing major mining market in the world this year, despite mounting political and regulatory risks

Glencore et al may have overestimated the strength of their position with suggestions that the new law will “cause the certain death of a young industry" or that international arbitration was a viable option.

The industry may be young, but the DRC is already too important for global copper – and of course cobalt – supply that companies could simply up sticks. Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg told a commodities conference on Tuesday, the Swiss miner has invested $7 billion in the DRC since the investor-friendly 2002 mining law came into effect.

Today the country supplies more than 60% of the world’s cobalt and that share will only grow over the medium term. The DRC could also soon overtake the US as the world’s number four producer of copper.

Cobalt production is forecast to hit 86,000 tonnes by the end of the decade, that’s up from fewer than 18,000 tonnes in 2007 according to the country's central bank. The expansion of copper output is more spectacular – from 96,000 tonnes in 2007 to a forecast 1.4m tonnes in 2020. Gold production is estimated to have grown to 35 tonnes by 2020 from a measly 122 kilograms in 2010.

BMI Research predicted in January that better metals prices, new projects coming online and expansions at existing operations “will make the DRC the fastest growing major mining market in the world this year, despite mounting political and regulatory risks.”

In an update last week BMI, a unit of Fitch Group, reiterated this view saying the new law will not alter the positive outlook for mining in the country:

Even with the announced hike in mining levies, the DRC's royalty rates will remain among the most competitive in the world for key sources of income, including copper and gold, meaning the domestic investment environment is unlikely to be impacted.

Taking a fifth

From the DRC government’s point of view the new law, first tabled in March 2015, is transformative and overdue.
The 2002 mining code, designed with help from the World Bank, is retrospectively considered too one-sided in favour of miners
Moody’s Investors Service calculates new mining taxes and royalties will increase Kinshasa’s government revenue by more than $1 billion per year.

While that figure won’t register in many mining jurisdictions for the DRC it constitutes 21% of 2017 total state revenues or 2.2% of GDP:

The 2002 mining code, which was designed with help from the World Bank, is retrospectively considered too one-sided in favour of miners, allowing them to deduct 60% of actual investments from profits.

The deductions led to large reported losses that the miners were able to spread over five years, further reducing the amount of taxable profit. By reinvesting again during that five-year period, mining companies were able to delay taxes once again.

This partly explains why taxes on extractive industries, including the mining and oil sectors, accounted for an average of $800 million per year since 2010, while the country’s total mineral and metal exports averaged $9-$10 billion per year.