China marks cobalt, copper ascendancy in Congo with new group

More than 30 Chinese companies active in the Democratic Republic of Congo formed a business association backed by both countries’ governments, further cementing China’s ascendancy in copper and cobalt production in the central African nation.

The 35-member Union of Mining Companies with Chinese Capital will facilitate “communication and exchange between the Chinese mining companies and the government of our country,” Cheng Yonghong, the group’s president, said at an inauguration event in Lubumbashi in southeast Congo on June 16. The group, known by the French acronym USMCC, was founded at the initiative of China’s embassy and on the advice of Congo’s mines minister, he said.

Members include China Molybdenum Co.-controlled Tenke Fungurume Mining and MMG Ltd., as well as subsidiaries of China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group and Huayou Cobalt Co. Sicomines, a joint venture between Sinohydro Corp., China Railway Construction Corp. and the Congolese state, has also joined.

Chinese companies have invested aggressively in recent years in the Katanga region, where Congo’s copper and cobalt deposits are located.

Chinese companies have invested aggressively in recent years in the Katanga region, where Congo’s copper and cobalt deposits are located, as some western miners left the country. In the largest transaction, China Moly bought a majority stake in Tenke, one of Congo’s biggest mines, from U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan Inc. as part of a $3.8 billion deal in January 2017. Glencore Plc, based in Baar, Switzerland, owns two of Congo’s biggest mining projects.

‘Everything Chinese’

Excluding Glencore, “everything has become Chinese,” Richard Muyej, the governor of Lualaba province where most of Congo’s copper and cobalt is situated, said at a mining conference on June 15.

Chinese investment is also a key feature of efforts under way by Congo’s state-owned mining company to re-establish itself as a leading producer. Gecamines’s output hit a peak of about 500,000 metric tons of copper in the 1980s but debt, mismanagement and the liberalization of the sector have diminished its role. Other than its minority shareholdings in joint ventures, Gecamines mined less than 16,000 tons of copper last year.

China Nonferrous Metal, or CNMC, is financing and building a copper-processing facility at Gecamines’ flagship Deziwa permit that it will transfer fully to the state miner once it has been reimbursed. The unit will produce 80,000 tons a year from 2020, Gecamines President Albert Yuma said in a speech on June 14.

The deal with allow the plant to “become the full and entire property of Gecamines at the end of a maximum of ten years,” Yuma said. He also announced a deal between the state miner and an unidentified Chinese entity to develop two copper and cobalt mines near the town of Kolwezi, which will guarantee Gecamines 16 percent of annual production.