By Vientiane Times
Asia News Net
Copper has become the most commonly mined commodity in Laos since the government moved to promote foreign investment in the mineral extraction industry in 2000.
According to a report from the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the government has approved 470 mining projects with a combined investment value of some US$5.9 billion (Bt193.4 billion).
Just under 40 per cent of the investment projects involve copper mining, making it probable that copper will remain as the top export commodity in Laos over the years to come.
The total area which the government has approved since 2000 for copper exploration and extraction is some 14,463sq km in size, according to a report which was distributed during the latest National Assembly session in December.
The government made the report to the lawmakers after facing complaints from people over the impact of certain mining projects, which forced the government to suspend all new mining concessions until 2015. The government has reviewed mining projects around the country as part of efforts to open mining investment again over the next two years.
The second largest mining investment is in iron ore, which accounts for around 14 per cent of total mining efforts. Since 2000, the government approved 29 ironore mining projects, with the tenements covering a combined area of 3,428sq km.
The third largest mining investment is gold mining, which accounts for around 9.5 per cent of total mining projects. Since 2000, the government approved 24 gold mining projects, which cover an area of 4,394sq km.
The fourth largest mineral extraction effort goes into coal, which accounts for 8.8 per cent of total mining investment. There are 18 coal mining projects in Laos, with a total area of 2,782sq km, which the government has approved since 2000.
There are two combined copper and gold mines in Laos, one is the Phu Bia mining project in Xaysomboun, now officially designated as a province, while the other one is the Sepon mine in Savannakhet. Most of the iron and coal mining projects are still in the survey and development phase, with proponents hoping that the projects will yield metal and coal fuel in the near future.
According to the report, the committee, which was formed to inspect mining projects, has proposed to suspend eight mining investment projects, or 3.09 per cent of total mining investment, after finding that the projects fail to follow the concession agreements.
The government has a policy to promote the export of semi-refined and finished mining products as part of efforts to add more value to the natural resources extracted before exporting them to world markets.
The government believes that the establishment of processing plants will not only create jobs and income for Lao people but also create export goods for the country after it joined the World Trade Organisation last year and is set to become a part of the Asean Economic Community in 2015.
Pundits expect that the value of Lao mineral exports will reach 15,278 billion kip (Bt62.2 billion) this fiscal year.