NEWS

World's mining powers converge in Toronto

03/07/2012 04:12 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT

It’s billed as the premier mining conference in the world, attracting both those who enthusiastically want to expand mineral exploration and excavation, as well as those who want to stop it.

From its humble beginnings at the King Edward Hotel in 1932 when rough-and-ready prospectors would come in fresh from the field, laying their mineral finds on the table to seek deals with Bay Street investors, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual convention has evolved into a glitzy four-day affair at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

The conference, which ends Wednesday, draws 30,000 investors, analysts, mining executives, geologists, prospectors and government officials from 120 countries. African and South American countries were represented in full force at the convention.

Instead of mineral samples — though some conference delegates still bring those — these days, glossy brochures and high-tech presentations are used to seal deals, not to mention the wooing of potential investors with free-flowing beer and fancy cocktail parties after hours.

Given Toronto’s pre-eminence in the mining sector, the city is a natural host for the event, which pumped $72 million into the local economy last year, said PDAC executive director Ross Gallinger.

The Toronto Stock Exchange has 1,629 mining-related companies listed, far more than any other exchange in the world. “The TSX has always been the forum for financial investment in the mining business,” said Gallinger.

A consistent theme at the conference for several years has been the shortage of skilled workers, he added. “We see a real surplus of jobs and a shortfall of people. Hundreds of thousands of jobs need to be filled in the next 20 years.”

Countries from around the world attend not only to announce that they are open for business in the mining sector but also to learn about best practices in the industry, said Gallinger.

The convention welcomed representatives from among the richest as well as the poorest nations on earth, including the five that follow.

Guinea

“We’re here to attract investors because we have a lot of minerals that still need to be extracted, said Camara Lenab with the Guinea Ministry of Mines. “It helps support our economy so we can build schools, roads and hospitals.”

The West African country derives a quarter of its income from the mining sector, though Lenab could not provide a dollar figure.

The country has the second-largest bauxite reserves in the world after Australia. Gold and diamonds are also major exports. The country introduced a new mining code in 1995 that offers investors tax incentives and a guarantee to own 85 per cent of any operations in Guinea.

Brazil

The mining sector is worth $50 billion US a year, said Marcelo Tunes of the country’s mining association. “It’s very important because it’s the basis for several other industries we have.…For each job mining creates, 13 other jobs are generated,”

Mining contributes two per cent to Brazil's GDP with iron ore being the main mineral export. The country also exports bauxite, gold and manganese and is the world’s largest exporter of niobium, tin, lithium, tantalum and gemstones.

“We have our own mining conference but we can’t miss Toronto. It’s a fixed event in our calendar,” said Tunes, who brought a delegation of 145 people, one of the largest. “When we leave Toronto, we are already planning for next year because it’s hard to get hotel rooms.”

China

With 80,000 state-owned mining companies and 200,000 mines, the country has the third-largest mining industry in the world. Iron ore and coal are the major minerals and the country is the world’s largest producer of tin and gold.

With its burgeoning growth, most of China's mineral production is used internally, though 60 per cent of its tin is exported. “China is one of the most important players in mining and very important in the global economy so that’s why we’re here,” propaganda chief Jinglong Wang said through a translator.

“We have very close connections and co-operation with Canada.” China has done overseas mergers and acquisitions worth more than $50 billion US in the last decade, according to Ernst & Young.

Australia

With 16 booths huddled under a massive canopy emblazoned with a kangaroo, the country's display was impossible to miss. Mining is a primary industry, contributing about 5.6 per cent of Australia's GDP — about $120 billion US a year to the economy. The country has mining activity in all of its states and territories.

“Nationally, it’s the main wealth generator,” said Brad John. Uranium, gold, copper, silver, iron ore and bauxite are the main minerals. Australia is also the world’s largest producer of opals and the second-largest producer of nickel after Russia.

Officials with the Mining Ministry do the initial legwork, providing potential investors with airborne geophysical data on potential sites free of charge to encourage them to stake a claim. That sort of data helped to reveal a silver mine, the world’s largest, but there was no surface evidence of it.

“There’s a perception that what could be found has been found, but in fact there’s still lots of potential for growth,” said John. “We’re in competition with the rest of the world, so we’re trying to lower the exploration risk profile by providing data. It might cost us millions of dollars but we just have to get one discovery and it’s hundreds of millions dollars back to the government.”

The country’s stable government, solid regulatory framework and tough environmental rules also give it a competitive advantage, he added.

India

Mining in India is a $43 billion US industry. Silver, zinc, copper, marble and limestone are the main minerals, and fuel minerals such as coal make up 67 per cent of the country’s production.

“Our country has a big appetite. We need more [minerals] than we produce and our demand is ever-growing,” said Suresh Kishnani director in the Ministry of Mines. Parts of the country, such as Rajasthan, have vast tracts of mineral wealth that have yet to be explored and excavated, he added.

The country is in the process of passing amendments to its mining act to make investing in mining more seamless and secure as well as cap delays in the approval process.

“The previous act, enacted in 1957, had several shortcomings. We’re plugging those loopholes. Unless investors’ confidence is there, unless their returns are assured, they will not make investments,” said Kishnani. “Once that act passes, the whole scenario will change.”

It will also emphasize transparency in competitive bids and environmental sustainability, added Vishwapati Trivedi, deputy minister of mines. “With the new act, India will be a very attractive proposition.”

India and Canada already have close links in mining. Tata Steel of India has invested $300 million in an iron ore mine in Quebec to produce steel for the company. It is also doing a feasibility study on a mine in Labrador.

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