Guinea is home to some of the richest and easily exploitable iron ore fields outside of Australia’s Pilbara region and top producer Vale’s Brazilian home base.
In May, the Guinea government and Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) and its partners – China’s Chalco together with the World Bank – inked a game-changing $20 billion deal for the southern section of the Simandou iron deposit.
At full production Rio’s Simandou concession would export up to 95 million tonnes per year – that’s a third of Rio’s total capacity at the moment – and would catapult Rio past Vale as world number one.
The northern part of the Simandou concession was held by BSG Resources which in 2010 sold 51% to Brazilian giant Vale (NYSE:VALE), but the Guinea government withdrew the mining permit in April, accusing BSGR of obtaining its rights through corruption in 2008.
BSGR has repeatedly denied any accusation of wrong doing and is seeking arbitration at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.”
At the time of the Vale deal BSGR envisioned a 50 – 70 million tonnes per year mine boasting 66% to 68% Fe grading to be built at a cost of $8 billion – $10 billion.
That project was designed to export from the deep sea Buchanan port in neighbouring Liberia to the south, while the Rio agreement requires a building a new deep-water port near the capital Conakry in the north of the country and a 650km rail line to transport the ore.
Rio Tinto has filed its own lawsuit against both Vale and BSGR for what it qualifies as a “steal” of its previously-owned concessions.
The west African nation plans to start a new auction to reissue rights for the BSGR-Vale half of the Simandou deposit.
Vale is expected to re-apply after being given the go-ahead by the Guinea government, but diversified giant Anglo American (LON:AAL) has not plans to take on a project of this size:
“Don’t expect us to be bidding for a project such as Simandou,” Anglo American’s head of marketing and iron ore sales, Timo Smit, told Reuters on the sidelines of a industry conference in Sweden:
“Our focus is more on having options to expand in west and central Africa. We won’t be making any large-scale investments any time soon.”
World number one miner BHP Billiton has decided to pull out of the country and is in the process of selling its stake in a nearby iron ore project called Nimba.