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Pakistan to open up mineral-rich Baluchistan to Chinese firms

Pakistan plans to open its resource-rich Baluchistan province to Chinese firms to kickstart a boom in its mining industry by including the sector into Beijing's Belt and Road initiative, Reuters reported June 2, citing the provincial secretary for mines, Saleh Muhammad Baloch.

China has pledged US$57 billion for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, a flagship project of the Belt and Road initiative which initially focused on building roads and power stations, but is now expanding to include setting up industries.

Chinese companies will partner with local firms and provide technical support to mine marble, chromite, limestone, coal and other minerals, as well as build steel mills and other plants. A profit-sharing formula will also be negotiated.

The projects are proposed to be built close to the source of raw materials and near the new CPEC roads that will connect western China with Pakistan's Arabian Sea port of Gwadar in the province.

Baloch cited Metallurgical Corp. of China Ltd.'s Saindak copper-gold mine in the province as an example to follow. The mine enjoys export privileges and significant tax breaks.

However, the CPEC will not include extraction of metals, such as copper and gold.

"As far as precious metals are concerned, we will go for competitive bidding internationally," Baloch added.

The government is seeking formal expressions of interest from international companies for an exploration block in the Tethyan belt, which is said to host big copper and gold deposits.

"Chinese, Australian, Turkish [companies] ... are all interested," Baloch said.

Baluchistan has a significant natural gas industry but large-scale mining has failed to take off, mostly because of the security fears and a high-profile litigation case with Barrick Gold Corp. and Antofagasta Plc over Reko Diq, one of the world's biggest undeveloped gold-copper mines in Baluchistan.