Monday, March 21, 2022

Pakistan Revives Reko Diq: One of The World's Largest Undeveloped Copper-Gold Deposits

Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold Corporation and the governments of Pakistan and Balochistan have reached a deal to restart the Reko Diq mining project. Reko Diq is the world's 4th largest undeveloped copper-gold porphyry deposit with over 14 million tons of copper and 21 million ounces of gold. The project was abandoned in 2011 after a Pakistan Supreme Court bench headed by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry canceled the mining license granted to Tethyan Copper Company (TCC), a joint venture between Canada's Barrick Gold and Antofagasta Minerals of Chile. TCC challenged the cancellation in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSID). On July 12, 2019, the ICSID Tribunal awarded TCC $5.894 billion plus interest of  $700,000 per day in damages against Pakistan. As of 1 March 2022, the award stood at $6.5 billion. The new agreement between Barrick Gold Corporation  and the governments of Pakistan and Balochistan does away with this award. It also increases the share of the project owned by Pakistan from 25% to 50%, brings in $10 billion investment, the largest single investment in the country, and creates 8,000 jobs. Reko Diq is part of the Tethyan metallogenic belt (TMB) that extends from the Balkans in Europe to Pakistan including Serbo-Macedonian, Anatolian, Takab, Kerman and Chagai metallogenic belts. It is believed to be rich in copper and gold deposits.

Reko Diq Copper-Gold Mine

New Reko Diq Deal: 

The new agreement to start Reko Diq waives the ICISD award. In the reconstituted project, Barrick will have 50% ownership and Pakistan 50%, comprising a 10% free-carried, non-contributing share held by the government of Balochistan, an additional 15% held by a special purpose company owned by the government of Balochistan and 25% owned by other federal state-owned enterprises. The federal government’s shares of 25% will be divided equally amongst three state-owned entities (SOE): Oil & Gas Development Corporation Limited (OGDCL), Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), and Government Holdings Pakistan Limited (GHPL). This is a huge improvement over the prior deal that gave the Balochistan government 25% stake in the project, with Tethyan holding the remaining 75%.

A separate agreement provides for Barrick’s partner Antofagasta PLC to be replaced in the project by the Pakistani parties, according to a statement released by Barrick Gold Corporation. Pakistan will buy out Antofagasta’s interest in the mine for $900 million, according to the two companies and the government. 

Production Targets/Social Infrastructure Projects:

When the project goes into production in 5 or 6 years time of development, it will produce 200,000 tons of copper and 250,000 ounces of gold a year for more than half a century. At current prices, the annual copper output will be $2 billion and gold output $500 million. 

The project’s development will bring in investment of approximately $10 billion in Balochistan, including $1 billion which would be invested in social uplift projects such as roads, schools, hospitals, and the creation of a technical training institute for mining. The investment is also said to result in the creation of over 8,000 jobs, according to a report in The Express Tribune newspaper. 

Future Potential:

Reko Diq is part of the Tethyan metallogenic belt (TMB) that extends from the Balkans in Europe to Pakistan including Serbo-Macedonian, Anatolian, Takab, Kerman and Chagai metallogenic belts. It is believed to be rich in copper and gold deposits. 

“Reko Diq could also be the springboard for further exploration and other mineral discoveries along the highly prospective Tethyan Metallogenic Belt,” said Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow. 

Foreign Direct Investment:

After reaching a peak of over $5 billion in 2007, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Pakistan has plummeted. It is at least in part attributable to bad decisions by the Pakistan Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Cancellation of the Pakistan Steel Mills privatization by the Chaudhry court in 2006. That decision alone has cost Pakistani taxpayers $100 million a year.  Then came the Chaudhry court's decision cancelling the Reko Diq license and the $6.5 billion award against Pakistan. These decisions had a chilling effect on foreign investment in Pakistan. Let us hope the revival of the Reko Diq project helps restore confidence of foreign investors in the country. Let us also hope that this history of unwise court decisions serves as a reminder to the Pakistani judiciary to be more careful in deciding such cases in future. 

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Shaukat Aziz's Economic Legacy in Pakistan

Saving Pakistan's Education, Steel Mill, Railway and PIA

Politics of Patronage Trumps Public Policy 

Iftikhar Chaudhry Scared Away Foreign Investors

Musharraf Earned Legitimacy by Good Governance

Vindictive Judges Pursue Musharraf

Rare Earths at Reko Diq?


Ijaz Yousufzai said...

What does it mean by free carried and non contributing share?

Riaz Haq said...

IY: "What does it mean by free carried and non contributing share?"

It means governments of Pakistan, Balochistan and other Pakistani entities pay nothing additional for their 50% share in the Reko Diq project. Pakistan government has already bought out Antofagasta’s 25% stake for $900 million.

Riaz Haq said...

Copper's contribution to Barrick's bottom line is increasing as Pakistan project revived
Reko Diq is one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits

A 2010 feasibility study of Reko Diq estimated the site could contain as much 54 billion pounds of copper and 42 million ounces of gold. In its 2010 annual report, Barrick said it envisioned building a mine in Pakistan that would produce 100,000 ounces of gold and between 150 to 160 million pounds of copper on average each year over the first five years. A lot has changed since then, and Barrick said it would need to update its projections based on current market conditions.

Barrick, which has long derived its profits from gold, is increasingly looking at copper.

“Copper’s contribution to the bottom line is increasing,” chief executive Mark Bristow said repeatedly during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Feb. 16.


Reko Diq, which many investors and analysts forgot about after a contentious legal dispute halted the project in 2011, would require billions of dollars of investment to build and take many years to complete. But it could potentially give Barrick a shot in the arm: past studies indicated the site contains billions of pounds of copper and millions of ounces of gold, and could produce for multiple decades.

“It’s still really early, so it’s hard for us to say what this all looks like,” said Jackie Przybylowski, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, who covers Barrick. “But I think it’s just an example of how mining companies are having to move more into different jurisdictions, and less obvious ones, or less common ones.”

After more than a decade of scouring the United States, Canada, Latin America and Australia, many mining companies are increasingly looking in countries and jurisdictions that are less connected to the Western economies.

Barrick has long had a diversified geographic portfolio; it now has projects in various states of development in Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea and Pakistan.

Przybylowski also noted that increasingly, the largest gold miners are looking at copper. This is in part because copper demand is expected to grow as a result of increased electrification and the energy transition, but also because geologically, recent discoveries have shown that copper often occurs alongside gold in large scale deposits.


“We have every intention of growing our business, both in copper and in gold — or in gold and then in copper,” said Bristow. “And the principle behind Barrick’s business philosophy is high-quality assets. That’s our focus. And so that’s what we’re hunting, whether it’s gold or copper.”

But he also said the company has invested to embed copper expertise in its exploration teams because the copper business had not always been so profitable in the past.


Josh Wolfson, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote that the project could add at least two per cent to Barrick’s net asset value — based on the payout to Antofogasta, which was paid a reported US$900 million for its 37.5 per cent stake in the project.

The revival of Reko Diq marks a sharp reversal for a project that had been dropped from most of Barrick’s investor presentations years ago, only to resurface in 2019 when the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes ordered the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to pay US$5.83 billion to a Barrick Gold Corp. joint venture subsidiary for blocking the mining project.

The award included US$4.087 billion in damages, which the arbitrators calculated was the fair value of the Reko Diq project at the time of the arbitration and US$1.75 billion in ongoing interest, plus US$62 million in legal costs.

Altaf said...

Would it (copper and gold) be processed in Pakistan or would be moved out of Pakistan in raw form?

Riaz Haq said...

Altaf: "Would it (copper and gold) be processed in Pakistan or would be moved out of Pakistan in raw form?"

Pakistan government is considering setting up a smelter at Reko Diq. There's already one operating at Saindak.

Riaz Haq said...

Saudi firm to help Pakistan assess Reko Diq gold, copper quantity

Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo, while defending a recently signed agreement on the Reko Diq copper and gold mining project with a Canadian company, has disclosed that a Saudi Arabian firm would set up a refinery in Gwadar to assess the quantity of minerals extracted from the site.

“I have taken all political leaders, parties and public representatives into confidence before signing the Reko Diq project, which will prove a gateway for foreign investment in Balochistan as [Canadian firm] Barrick Gold Corporation will invest $10 billion,” he said during an interaction with senior journalists and newspapers editors at Chief Minister House on Friday night.

He said the agreement clearly mentioned it “would be cancelled if the [Canadian] company failed to start work within three years at the site allotted for exploration and mining.”

Mr Bizenjo said that despite various hurdles and difficulties, it was the best possible agreement. “Five months were crucial and very difficult in which there has been a fear of the governor’s rule in the province,” he said, adding that all political leaders have appreciated our efforts and said that we had made a big contribution to the province.

He said that under the new agreement, Balochistan’s share in the project would be 25 per cent without any investment by the province. Other financial benefits, including royalty taxes, were also part of the agreement.

He said that Barrick Gold would pay a royalty to Balochistan immediately while the company would spend Rs40 billion to develop the area under social responsibility.

He claimed that former chief minister Jamal Kamal Khan was dealing alone with the authorities concerned to restart the Reko Diq project without taking anyone on board, including even the chief secretary, finance secretary and other officials.

Riaz Haq said...

In a bid to upgrade their economic ties, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are mulling a long-term investment strategy. The kingdom is encouraging major Saudi companies to expand their business internationally and offering government help and resources through the National Companies Promotion Program (NCPP) if they are not currently active abroad.

Read more:

Meeting on the sidelines of the Tashkent International Investment Forum last week, the chairman of Pakistan’s Board of Investment (BOI) and minister of state, Azfar Ahsan, and the Saudi Minister for Investment, Khalid Al-Falih, discussed options for promoting bilateral investment.

According to the official statement issued by Pakistan’s investment board, “It was agreed that shovel-ready projects, including the expansion project of Pakistan Refinery, will be evaluated by the Saudi government.”

In 2019, the kingdom had announced plans for a $10 billion oil refinery at Gwadar port, but logistics issues hampered the project. A 600-km oil pipeline connecting Gwadar to the main oil hub, Karachi, would be needed to make the Saudi investment worthwhile, and — according to the feasibility report prepared by Aramco — the transportation of processed oil from Gwadar would be too expensive even then.

This time, Saudi Aramco will be kicking off “preferred projects” in Pakistan’s oil refinery sector, and the expansion of a decades-old refinery in Karachi is most likely. Next, Saudi investors will receive some exceptional incentives in special economic zones in Pakistan. According to the BOI chairman, several proactive measures have been taken to facilitate investment.

“Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are historically close allies," Mohammed Alhamed, president of the Saudi Elite Group, told Al-Monitor, "and Riyadh’s investment comes to make Pakistan’s economic development stable and strong.”

Agriculture, mining, renewable energy, food processing, refineries, petrochemicals and information technology have been identified as potential areas of investment. Proposing a joint BOI-NCPP team for finalizing projects in Pakistan, Falih also suggested that the Pakistani side visit the kingdom and market investment projects both from the public and private sectors.

Alhamed said, “The Saudi investments in Pakistan today are an example of a power, security and economic partnership which will lead to shared prosperity, regional stability and mutual respect based on long term-investment, strategic and social ties.”

Despite a gradual increase to around $2.181 billion in 2020, low bilateral trade volume still remains a major shortcoming in Saudi-Pakistan relations. However, nearly 2.5 million Pakistani expats live in the kingdom, which is still Islamabad’s largest source of remittances.

Without strong bilateral economic connections, the Saudi-Pakistan relationship is incomplete. Even though it was once described as “probably one of the closest relationships between any two countries” by the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki bin Faisal, it has been affected by regional issues in recent years.

Pakistan adopted a neutral stance in the Yemen war and refused to send any troops in response to the kingdom’s request in 2015, as it was trying to balance Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Then in August 2019, India abrogated Article 370 and ended the special status of the disputed part of Kashmir valley in its control. As one of the three claimants in the Kashmir issue, Pakistan felt that the cause was not highlighted by the Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), of which it is a founding member since 1969.

Next, in November 2019, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia organized an Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur without Saudi Arabia, which feared a rival bloc of Muslim countries outside the OIC, which it heads. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had planned to attend the event but backed out at the last minute due to Riyadh’s insistence.

Riaz Haq said...

Barrick Gold has announced plans for its Reko Diq copper-gold deposit in Balochistan, Pakistan, which will be developed in two phases.

The project will begin with a nearly 40Mtpa plant, with the capacity expected to double in five years.

First production is expected within five to six years, if everything goes according to plan, Barrick Gold president and CEO Mark Bristow said in an investor call.

The two-phased construction of the mine is said to optimise returns, reduce execution risks, manage upfront capital, as well as offer cash flows in the long run.

The Canadian miner would update the 2010 feasibility study after finalising the underlying agreements, legalisation and closing.

Bristow said: “Offering a unique combination of large scale, low strip and good grade, Reko Diq will be a multi-generational mine, with a life of at least 40 years.

“The contemplated mine plan is based on four porphyry deposits within our land package and our exploration licence area holds additional deposits with future upside potential.”

Barrick Gold have a 50% holding in the project and will serve as the operator. The remaining stake will be held by Pakistani state-owned enterprises (25%) and the Balochistan government (25%).

Bristow added: “At Barrick, we know that our long-term success depends on sharing the benefits we create equitably with our host governments and communities. That’s why we wanted Balochistan’s share of the venture to be fully funded, 10% by the project and 15% by the Government of Pakistan.

The project is anticipated to create 7,500 job opportunities during the peak construction phase and nearly 4,000 long-term jobs once operational.

Besides, Barrick was also evaluating solar, wind and battery configurations to enhance the renewable power generation for the mine.

The project was stalled since 2011 due to a long-running spat with Pakistan over its licensing process. However, last month, Barrick Gold agreed to resume work on the project, after reaching an out-of-court settlement, under which the $11bn penalty against Pakistan was waived off