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Chinese Mining Companies Must Process Minerals in Laos Before Export

Source: Radio Free Asia

Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone has directed the Ministry of Energy and Mines to require mining companies to process raw minerals in Laos before export – a demand aimed at the country’s numerous Chinese-funded mining projects.

Siphandone communicated the new guideline for overseeing mining operations to ministry officials during a visit on March 1 to the headquarters of Electricite du Laos, the state-owned power company in Vientiane.

The order is aimed at providing work for Laotians during a time when the national economy has stagnated and many young people are considering moving to Thailand or elsewhere abroad to find better-paying jobs.

“The prime minister insists that the mining companies process all minerals here in Laos,” said a ministry official, who like other sources in this report requested anonymity for safety reasons.

“More specifically, our government wants all Chinese mining companies to comply with the new guideline as soon as possible,” he told Radio Free Asia. 

Over the last 20 years, the Lao government has given the green light to 1,143 mining projects and 1,336 mineral processing projects covering more than 72,370 square km (27,942 square miles) – more than 3 percent of the country’s total surface area. 

Most of the recently approved projects were for Chinese investors, according to the Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment. 

Some of the larger operations have prompted complaints that not enough local workers are hired, and that local residents are often left without farmland or drinkable water after mining companies move into an area, evict local residents, and then dig into the land.

Under the current system, Laos “loses more than it gains,” an official of the Lao Ministry of Industry and Commerce told RFA. 

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‘Not surprised’

Most of the projects are focused on extracting gold, copper, silver, nickel, coal, iron, potassium, or zinc, according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ website.

Laotians have spoken frequently about seeing large, mineral-loaded trucks heading north on dirt roads and paved highways toward the Boten border checkpoint with China.

“These trucks are very heavy and they damage our roads,” a Public Works and Transport Department official in northern Phongsaly province told RFA.

The owner of a Lao mining company in Oudomxay province in northern Laos said he watched as all raw minerals were taken to China during his time as a subcontractor for a Chinese mining company.

“I’m not surprised that the Lao government is suspending the export of the raw minerals,” he said. “Besides this company, many other Chinese mining companies have been exporting raw minerals to China too.”