Saudi Arabia courts Australian miners for $170 billion plan

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. Photo by, creative commons.

Saudi Arabia is seeking investment from Australian miners to support its $170-billion plan to build a mining industry and diversify its oil-dependent economy this decade.

The kingdom says it’s sitting on top of $1.3 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits including copper, zinc, phosphates and gold. Saudi Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar bin Ibrahim Al-Khorayef is in Australia this week to drum up investment interest.

Australian miners should “come, explore, do mining — the same as they are doing here”, he said in an interview on Tuesday in Sydney.

Saudi Arabia is pursuing a Vision 2030 project to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and embrace industries from mining to renewable energy and manufacturing. Of the $170 billion sought for mining, it envisages about 60% will come from private companies and the rest from state-owned entities.

Al-Khorayef said he had met with a number of smaller Austrlalian miners already, and hoped to meet bigger players such BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Plc at a major mining conference in Sydney this week.

Saudi investors are “interested in this sector”, he said, but the country lacks domestic mining expertise and “you need to have partners who understand the sector quite well, and know how to utilize the resources.”

Junior miners

Saudi Arabia’s small mining industry is dominated by state miner Saudi Arabian Mining Co., commonly known as Maaden. The country should emulate Australia’s model of junior, private-sector miners that develop riskier and early-stage mines, the minister said.

“We feel it’s quite a good model for us to copy in Saudi, because we have a lot of young entrepreneurs who I’m sure many of them would be interested in the sector,” he said.

Battery metals such as lithium and nickel are already a focus for Maaden and Saudi Arabia, but the scale of resources is still unclear. Maaden said last year it would spend a “huge amount of money” in the coming two decades to explore for battery metals.

(By James Fernyhough)


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