The old world beckons for South African mining companies. That’s the message echoed from the very highest levels of government in Spain’s Andalusia province who are actively engaging with mining countries from around the world to encourage investors and companies to come and participate in Spain.
Representatives from Peru, South Africa, and Canada were invited to participate in a study tour hosted by one of the region’s economic agencies, Extenda, with a view to learning about the opportunities for exploitation of the region’s mineral resources.
Map of Spain highlighting Andalusia
Andalusia is the southern-most region in Spain, and comprises eight provinces with Seville as its capital. It is one of the oldest mining destinations in the world, with the earliest activity dating back as much as 6 000 years ago.
“We want Andalusia to be an international reference point for mining in the world, and part of this has to do with its historic significance,” says Maria José Ascencio Coto, the regional vice-minister in the ministry of employment, business and commerce. “We believe Andalusia is a land of opportunity for investors and we would like to begin a dialogue with companies, and show them why Andalusia is the best place to invest.”
Besides the region’s excellent infrastructure (port, rail, road and information technology), which can easily access the Mediterranean, the knowledge and skills pool fed by the region’s ten universities, and the 8.4 million strong market, what might be of particular interest to South African investors and executives tired of operating in a policy vacuum is the stable political environment and mining policy the region enjoys.
Much of the permitting required to operate has been placed in the hands of the regional government, and their buy-in to encourage mining was self-evident on the trip. “I have never seen the type of support from government that we are getting at the moment,” says Francisco Moreno, the President of Aminer, a trade association of miners and related businesses. “We mine, but we must also respect the environment. We are delighted to receive any others that want to come here.”
The geology of the area is characterised by the 250 kilometre-long Iberian pyrite belt that contains Europe’s largest deposit of polymetallic sulphides. This has allowed the economic extraction of zinc, lead, copper, gold and silver, with the ancient copper mine Rio Tinto providing the name for the global mining company.
The government has created an online portal that can be accessed in Spanish and English for interested prospectors to utilise. It provides real-time information on geology, results from previous exploration work, the identity and nature of all permits granted in the region, and environmentally sensitive areas. Maps and information are also available for download.
There is also the Spanish geological survey which provides additional information.
Two large scale mining operations are underway in the area. Just outside of Seville, First Quantum owns the Cobre Las Cruces mine, which is currently mining open-pit, but will move to underground in 2021. The mine currently produces around 72 000 tonnes of copper cathode a year with a purity of 99.99%, allowing for a premium of $80 – $120 per tonne. The mines’ economics are one of the most attractive in the First Quantum Group.
When the mine moves underground, capacity through the mill will increase from 1.5 to 3 million tonnes per annum, and the operation will also produce significant amounts of zinc, lead and silver.
Open pit at Cobre Las Cruces
Further east, and Trafigura have invested in the MATSA mine, whose newest operation, Magdalena, has just come online. The mine produces copper, zinc and lead concentrates, and is the result of successful recent exploration in the area.
“We have a pyrite belt that we know we can go deeper and exploit. Our government is supporting our activity. This is not always the case with mining,” says Susana Sarria, Deputy Director General for Industry, Energy and Mines, in the Andalusia regional government. “We are happy to welcome South African companies to come and see all the things we have discussed. And we want them to bring their technical expertise and capital and invite them to come and show us how they do things. So I would personally like them to come and have a look. We share very similar weather with South Africa and I don’t have to tell you about the friendly people!”
Seville will be hosting the biennial International Metallic Mining Trade Show next year from the 17th to the 19th of October.
Warren’s trip was paid for by Extenda.