By Ian Coles of Mayer Brown

Mining professionals are gathered in Cape Town this week for Indaba, one of the largest mining investment conferences in the world. At the top of the agenda for many will be Africa’s capabilities as the next global provider of rare earths.

Global demand for rare earth production continues to increase. Ernst & Young has estimated the value of the market this year between $4bn and $6bn. The greatest demand comes from Japan, where annual imports are estimated in the region of $500m. Read more

While most Indians were celebrating the Diwali holiday last week, authorities in New Delhi slipped out an order that may bring an end to the state monopoly on coal mining.

Many analysts are now questioning, however, whether international mining groups will enter India if the government follows through on last week’s ordinance. And more to the point – even if they do, is this the answer to India’s acute energy shortage? Read more

South Africa’s three major platinum producers hit by a 17-week strike look set to resume talks with union leaders after a Labour Court said on Tuesday it would mediate between the parties.

The court’s surprise decision comes as tensions have been rising in South Africa’s platinum belt, with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the companies – Anglo American Platinum, Impala and Lonmin – poles apart in the wage dispute. Read more

China Kingho Energy Group, one of China’s largest privately owned energy groups, remains optimistic it can make progress on a US$6bn-10bn Sierra Leone iron ore mining project as early as next year in spite of China’s slumping appetite for the metal ore.

“The difficulties we have faced so far are the macro-economic and market conditions,” said James Chang, director of external affairs in the Kingho chairman’s office told beyondbrics. Read more

It’s rarely a quiet day in South African mining. Last week there was the Mining Indaba conference, where the mood among many miners was one of caution; the mines minister has indicated that the controversial Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill will pass within months; and negotiations over the crippling mining strikes have apparently ground to halt. Then there was the tragic death of at least 10 workers in two separate incidents at Harmony Gold (pictured).

So where next for the industry? Read more

When employees of Indonesian zinc oxide producer Indo Lysaght went to pick up their export permits from the trade ministry last month they were shocked to be told by officials: “computer says no”.

Without the company’s prior knowledge, zinc oxide had been added to the list of mineral ores that were banned from being exported as of January 12 as part of a controversial plan to force mining companies to build smelters and refineries. Read more

“Made in Mongolia” trolleybuses bump along Peace Avenue, Ulan Bator’s main east-west axis, alternating lousy braking with sudden acceleration. Most of their major components have been imported from abroad and the buses are only assembled locally. Still, they embody the ambition of local authorities to develop Mongolian industry.

“Before, we were thinking of importing everything. But things have been changing and today Mongolians can produce themselves, even buses,” said president Tsakhia Elbegdorj during the inauguration of a new bus assembly line in Ulan Bator few weeks ago. Read more

Indonesia’s powerful corruption commission has a new target. Having gone for members of the president’s inner circle, the country’s highest judge and dozens of parliamentarians, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) now has the lucrative mining industry in its sights.

Adnan Pandu Praja, a deputy chairman of the KPK, told the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club on Wednesday that the agency was launching a crackdown on corrupt mining companies and some of the government officials, military officers and police who stand behind them. Read more

As you’d expect, Indonesia’s new restrictions on raw-mineral exports have gone down badly overseas. US mining majors Newmont and Freeport have decried the sliding scale of increasingly tough taxes, arguing that their original contracts of works to dig up copper and gold should shield them from subsequent law changes.

The Japanese nickel industry is upset, too. Unlike copper, iron ore, lead and zinc, where miners were given a few years to phase out exports, shipments of nickel ore were cut altogether as of 12 January. Read more

Shares in Paladin rose after the miner announced the sale of a 25 per cent stake in its Namibia uranium mine to the China National Nuclear Corporation. The deal was partly about cutting debt at the Australian miner. But it also signals that low uranium prices, especially in the post-Fukushima era, are taking a toll on African exploration.

Between 2005 and 2007, the uranium price increased steeply from $20 per pound ($44 per kg) to almost $140 per pound ($311 per kg) during what came to be described as a ‘nuclear renaissance’. The drivers included growing momentum towards low carbon energy, carbon cap schemes, high oil prices and potentially epic demand for new nuclear capacity among large emerging economies. In several African countries, uranium surveys were eagerly commissioned and new deposits sought. Read more

An Indonesian smelter. More to come?

Many mining companies in Indonesia have warned that a ban on the export of some unprocessed mineral ores, brought into force this month, will deter foreign investment in the sector.

But Mahendra Siregar, the ambitious technocrat who heads Indonesia’s investment co-ordinating board (BKPM), believes that investment will in fact be boosted by the new rule as three metal smelters come on stream this year and 25 more are built over the next three years. Read more

China is not known for its moral scruples or sensitivity when it comes to investing in dangerous countries. It may help to build schools, hospitals and railways as a quid pro quo for getting access, but what it mostly seems to want is to get in and out with its raw materials and without interfering in local politics.

Erik Prince and China could be made for each other. The former Navy Seal who founded the hugely controversial private security group Blackwater is pitching to run logistics for Chinese mining and energy companies in Africa. Read more

Who loves China? Vale certainly does

The rebound seen in the Chinese economy during the third quarter has provided a much needed boost to Vale’s bottom-line.

Following a disastrous Q2, the Brazilian miner said on Wednesday that profits for the three months to the end of September have more than doubled thanks to stronger demand from China, higher commodity prices and a recovery in the Brazilian real. Read more

Zimbabwe is increasingly pinning its hopes on its mining industry to beef up the government coffers. The government is keen to tap into the sector’s huge potential – it holds the second largest platinum reserves globally and its diamond fields are also reportedly ranked among the top five diamond reserves in the world.

But mining needs support to get over the constraints of high production costs, excessive fees, and falling commodity prices. So the government is planning to issue it’s first bond aimed at financing the mining sector. Will it be able to convince investors to participate? Read more

Alrosa might be considered the king of diamonds. It is the world’s largest rough diamond producer by volume, with almost 1bn carats of resources.

It’s certainly the king of privatisations, as far as 2013 is concerned. A stake of 16 per cent stake in the company was sold for $1.3bn in an IPO on Monday, making it Russia’s first state privatistion of the year. Read more

Simandou or Simandon't?

The Simandou deposit in Guinea ranks as a peerless untapped repository of iron ore. It would represent the biggest mining investment in Africa, rivalling even the oil industry’s mega-projects deep under the continent’s Atlantic coast. But like other fabled African prospects – take Congo’s Inga dam – it remains unrealised.

The mine, plus a 670km railway and a port to get the iron ore from a remote hillside to the world market, would cost about $20bn to build. That is three times the annual gross domestic product of Guinea, a nation just as mired in poverty as its volatile neighbours in west Africa despite already being the continent’s biggest producer of bauxite, the ore used to make aluminium. Read more

Mineral-rich Peru appears to be getting back to the game following news that Minmetals of China has submitted a bid for Glencore Xstrata’s Las Bambas copper project, one of the largest new copper projects in the world. Two other Chinese companies, Chinalco and Jiangxi Copper, as well as Newmont Mining of the US have also expressed interest in the mine.

Glencore is selling Las Bambas as a condition of its acquisition of Xstrata imposed by Chinese regulators. But Peru’s government has good reason to want a “first class” buyer, in the words of mining minister Jorge Merino, as it appears to be serious about re-igniting several large mining projects that have been stalled by protests or other issues. Read more

Politics and business have long been tightly entwined in the Czech Republic, but political attention is becoming a growing problem for Czech coal tycoon Zdenek Bakala, who is playing an important, if uncomfortable, role in that country’s ongoing parliamentary election campaign.

His problem started when New World Resources. the Dutch-registered coal miner that is controlled by BXR Group, his investment vehicle, announced that it was going to have to close its Paskov coking coal mine by next year. Read more

Mining country?

It’s well known that Nigeria’s oil industry is going through a rough patch – and one that’s likely to get rougher as a US shale boom revolutionises the global energy market. The government has noticed too and is setting its sights on other sectors as future sources of economic growth. Mining is high on the list. Read more

For Barrick Gold, there was a silver lining to the Chilean Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday to uphold the suspension of the construction of its giant Pascua Lama mine.

The Toronto-based company will at least not be required to apply for a new environmental permit for the $8.5bn project, which sits high up in the Andes on the border with Argentina. Read more