JAKARTA, March 28 (Reuters) - Indonesia will soon certify the local unit of U.S. mining giant Newmont Mining Corp as a registered exporter, a mining ministry official said, taking the firm a step closer to ending a hiatus on copper exports from its Batu Hijau mine in Sumbawa.
Indonesia in January levied an escalating tax on copper concentrate exports, but both Newmont and rival copper miner Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc - who together account for 97 percent of Indonesia's copper output - said the rule conflicts with contracts they signed with Indonesia that exempt them from new taxes and duties.
The government has also demanded the two commit to building and supplying smelter projects in Indonesia before they can resume concentrate shipments, and has hinted this may also give them leeway with the export tax.
The moves precede a coming ban on copper concentrate exports in 2017 and are part of new rules introduced on Jan. 12 that have left the mining sector in turmoil.
"Today we submitted a recommendation letter to the Trade Ministry for Newmont to be registered as an exporter," Sukhyar, director general of coal and minerals, told reporters. Sukhyar, like many Indonesians, goes by just one name.
Newmont would still need to get an all-clear from the finance ministry before it can resume exports, Sukhyar added.
Before the new export rules, Newmont forecast total copper in concentrate output would be between 110,000 and 125,000 tonnes from its Indonesian mine this year. Freeport had estimated output at 500,000 tonnes from its Grasberg mine.
Newmont said last month it expects normal mining operations to continue at the mine in Indonesia for at least the next two months while it tries to resolve the impasse on exports.
On Thursday, the government said it had resolved the tax issues with Freeport, and that the firm could resume copper shipments in April. (Reporting by Wilda Asmarini; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Tom Hogue)