Barrick mulls selling Zambia copper mine over higher taxes

The Lumwana copper mine in Zambia’s Copperbelt. (Image courtesy of Barrick Gold.)

Gold giant Barrick (TSX:ABX)(NYSE:GOLD) said Monday that while it continues to engage with the Zambian government and community stakeholders about a mutually-beneficial way forward for its Lumwana copper mine, it would consider selling the operation given the “challenging conditions” it’s facing.

Barrick said finding a win-win solution between the industry and government would increase investor confidence in Zambia and safeguard the long-term prospects of its mining sector.

Following the first Lumwana board meeting after the merger with Randgold, Barrick’s chief operating officer for Africa and the Middle East, Willem Jacobs, said the company understood the Zambian government was under pressure to increase its revenue. But he noted the planned tax changes would put Lumwana in a difficult situation.

“The proposed changes to taxes and royalties would imperil the mine’s ability to sustain returns to all stakeholders, such as the significant contribution of more than $3.3 billion it has already made to the Zambian economy over the past 10 years,” Jacobs said in the statement.

Zambia, Africa’s second-largest copper producer, increased this year its sliding scale for royalties of 4% to 6% by 1.5 percentage points, and introduced a new 10% tax when the price of copper exceeds $7,500 per tonne.

The nation also plans to replace value-added tax with a sales tax by April to help bring down mounting public debt.

Mining accounts for more than 70% of Zambia’s foreign-exchange earnings. Other than Barrick, companies operating in the southern African nation include Glencore, Vedanta Resources and First Quantum. The latter warned last month it would have to lay off 2,500 workers at its local mines because of the taxes and royalties change.