Zambia’s major mines are not exporting copper concentrate, Chamber of Mines Chief Nathan Chishimba said today, reacting to a call by the Mineworkers Union of Zambia that such exports should be banned.
MUZ General Secretary Joseph Chewe was quoted in a news report last week saying that government should ban the export of copper concentrate by mining companies, because refining it into finished cathode copper is “giving jobs to other countries”.
Chishimba said: “This call for a ban suggests there are massive exports of copper concentrate that need to be stopped. We don’t quite know where this is coming from, as the facts paint a very different picture.”
None of the large mines are exporting copper concentrate, he said. It makes no economic sense anyway, because Zambia’s smelters are currently not running at full capacity, and are struggling to find enough concentrate to process. Concentrate is even being imported from the Democratic Republic of Congo to keep certain smelters operating efficiently.
If there is any exporting of copper concentrate by Zambian mines, it is probably being done “at the margins” by very small-scale producers who are unable to have their copper concentrate processed locally for reasons related to their quality.
“Smelters are complex pieces of infrastructure designed to handle copper concentrate only of a certain kind and quality,” said Chishimba. “If anyone is exporting concentrate, incurring all the additional taxes and expense of doing so, one can only assume the concentrate cannot be processed locally.”
In any event, Chishimba said, the answer to job creation in Zambia is not to ban legitimate business activity, but to grow the economy and make it more competitive. “We cannot ban our way to prosperity and employment,” he said.
As for the MUZ leader’s statement that all copper concentrate produced in Zambia should be refined into finished copper cathode locally, Chishimba said Zambia does not have the refining capacity to do this.
Converting anode copper (95% pure) into cathode copper (99.95% pure) is done in a refinery through a process known as electrorefining. Zambia only has two refineries, and their capacity is not sufficient to handle all the copper anode produced by the Zambian mining industry.
“In any event, it is a relatively low value-add process, and it is also extremely power-intensive – an important consideration given Zambia’s current power deficit.”
Chishimba said it would be more helpful if stakeholders addressed their concerns directly with the industry in a spirit of dialogue and engagement, rather than making statements to the media without full knowledge of the facts.
Acting Chief Executive Officer
Zambia Chamber of Mines