* De Beers wants to return after 2-year hiatus
* Angola to boost output to 9.5 mln carats this year
* Says Rio Tinto, Vale have shown interest in other minerals
(Adds forecast for 2014, plans for other minerals)
By Shrikesh Laxmidas
LUANDA, April 10 Angola, the world's
fourth-largest diamond producer by value, will approve a new
concession to De Beers to explore for diamonds, Geology and
Mines Minister Francisco Queiroz said.
London-based De Beers, majority-owned by global miner Anglo
American, previously explored in Angola between 2005 and
2012 but relinquished its concession.
"The company made that big investment in prospecting, and
unfortunately it didn't have great results, but it is making a
new bid, and another investment will be approved," Queiroz told
the Reuters Africa Summit on Thursday.
De Beers Chief Executive Philippe Mellier said last month
the company hoped talks with Angola would be successful, with a
view to starting early stage work this year. ID:nL6N0MI406]
"De Beers has been negotiating with (state-owned diamond
firm) Endiama, and it is welcome in Angola as it has been in the
country for a long time, even before independence from Portugal
in 1975," Queiroz said.
The government of Angola, the world's sixth-largest diamond
producer by volume, is keen to boost a sector in which few
companies are currently drilling.
Russia's Alrosa, De Beers' main competitor,
already operates the Catoca mine in Angola, the world's
fourth-largest, in a joint venture with Endiama.
Queiroz said a new deal between Endiama and Alrosa,
announced in February, to explore in eastern Angola could
produce huge results, with the Russian firm to spend $15.5
million on rights and over $150 million if deposits are found.
"De Beers and Alrosa could help contribute to a boom in
Angolan production in a short space of time."
Even before those projects begin, Angola already plans to
boost production to 9.5 million carats in 2014 from last year's
8.5 million, because of three mines that opened recently.
GEOLOGICAL SURVEY STARTS
Angola is Africa's second biggest oil producer and has grown
rapidly after a 27-year civil war ended in 2002, but the
government wants to reduce reliance on crude oil output, which
brings in over 95 percent of export revenues.
It plans to tap other mineral resources, which analysts say
are extensive, but has been held back by a lack of data.
The government has set up a $405 million survey to find
deposits of iron, copper, gold, manganese and other minerals.
"The preparation work is done, and now one of the three
companies hired to do the survey will start mapping this month,
with the other two no later than June," Queiroz said.
The results, due in three to five years, will allow
investors to make informed decisions, while a more competitive
mining code approved in 2012 will help.
The minister said giants such as Rio Tinto, Brazil's
Vale, and Anglo American had shown interest,
"I am sure they will end up working here."
Queiroz said that in the meantime, Angola is pushing ahead
with projects to explore for iron ore, copper and phosphate.
But the $900 million Cassinga iron project, a joint venture
between state firm Ferrangol and private operators including
trading house Trafigura, has hit financial problems
and may have to proceed more gradually, the minister said.
"The total investment for the project will perhaps be even
higher than that figure, and the investor has had financial
trouble in this launch phase," the minister said.
"The solution might be to do it by bits, start with what has
already been identified, lower the budget needs and only then do
the rest of the project."
(Reporting by Shrikesh Laxmidas; editing by Jane Baird)