(Adds more Freeport comments, background)
JAKARTA, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Freeport-McMoRan Inc’s Indonesia unit will complete on Thursday loading for its first copper concentrate export shipment since new mining rules were introduced in the Southeast Asian nation, the unit’s CEO said.
Production at its Grasberg mining complex is already back to normal levels, Freeport Indonesia CEO Rozik Soetjipto said.
Freeport clinched a deal with the Indonesian government late last month to end a six-month dispute over a controversial escalating tax on metal concentrates that halted all export at one of the world’s biggest copper mines.
Earlier this week, the Arizona-based firm said it would resume copper concentrate exports on Wednesday, with an initial shipment of 10,000 tonnes to China.
“Concentrates that have been stockpiled for months (had) hardened, which slowed the loading process,” Rozik said on Thursday. “At 1500 today, the loading will be finished ... we still don’t know if we can ship today or tomorrow morning, but it is supposed to be today.”
Rozik did not give an estimate for concentrate exports for the year, and a company spokeswoman was unavailable for comment on Thursday.
Mining ministry and central bank officials forecast that Freeport will now export between 750,000-756,000 tonnes of copper concentrate in the second half of 2014, worth $1.5 billion.
The export tax was part of moves to force all miners to develop local mineral processing facilities, which would bring bigger returns for the government from Indonesia’s mineral resources.
But mining industry executives in Indonesia have balked at the idea of developing downstream industries and building smelters, citing a lack of power and infrastructure in remote areas where mines are often located.
The escalating tax on metal concentrates kicked in at 25 percent and rises to 60 percent in the second half of 2016, before a total concentrate export ban in 2017.
Under a revision of the tax, Freeport will now pay a 7.5 percent duty on its copper concentrate exports, but that rate falls as it spends on its smelter, hitting zero once investment in the project exceeds 30 percent of total cost.
Freeport currently smelts some 30 to 40 percent of its output from its Grasberg mine at a copper smelter in Gresik, East Java.
The firm is now looking at potential smelter construction sites in Gresik and Papua, with land acquisition costs likely to be around $100 million, said Rozik, adding that he hoped that ground-breaking would take place this year.
Freeport previously worked on a feasibility study for a copper smelter with Indonesia’s Aneka Tambang (Antam), and Rozik said the state-owned miner may help with permit applications and construction.
Talks with possible partners for financing the smelter project are ongoing, he added, with both Antam and Newmont Mining Corp involved in the discussions.
Newmont, which runs the Batu Hijau copper and gold mine, has adopted a tougher approach to resolving the export tax dispute by filing for international arbitration.
Indonesian Mining Association Executive Director Syahrir Abubakar urged Newmont on Thursday to withdraw its arbitration case. (Additional reporting by Yayat Supriatna and Adriama Nina Kusuma; Reporting by Wilda Asmarini; Writing by Michael Taylor; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)