Congo rejects mining industry proposal to soften new code

KINSHASA, March 23 (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo's mines minister rejected a proposal by mining companies on Friday to soften some provisions in a new mining code in exchange for higher royalties.

Mining companies said on Friday they would be willing to pay the government more to produce cobalt, gold, copper and other minerals if the government agreed to respect 10-year exemptions to changes to the fiscal and customs regimes for existing projects, and cancel certain taxes.

"We cannot change anything in the mining code," Martin Kabwelulu said at the start of talks over regulations to implement the new code, which President Joseph Kabila signed into law earlier this month in the face of fierce industry opposition.

"The taxation as laid out in the mining code is untouchable. It stays," he said.

Randgold executive Willem Jacobs, speaking on behalf of mining companies operating in Congo, had pushed for the government to respect the 10-year exemptions and scrap a 50 percent windfall profit tax, which applies if commodity prices rise above certain levels.

Major international investors in Congo, including Randgold , Glencore, China Molybdenum, Ivanhoe and AngloGold Ashanti, say the new code will scare off investment and violate existing agreements.

(Reporting By Amedee Mwarabu; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and David Evans)