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UPDATE 1-Zambia y/y copper output down 6 pct to August 2007

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LUSAKA, November 7 (Reuters) - Copper output at Zambia mines fell 6 percent in the eight months to August casting doubts on whether the country’s target of 670,000 tonnes of production for 2007 will be achieved, officials said on Wednesday.

Data obtained from the Bank of Zambia (BoZ) showed that finished copper output was down by 6 percent to 323,666 tonnes compared with last year’s output of 343,594 tonnes during the same period.

The central bank said in a fortnightly report that copper exports also climbed down to 292,392 tonnes from 323,842 during the same period.

“I doubt if the mines will be able to achieve the target (of 670,000 tonnes) because 6 percent is a difficult figure to catch up with. Unless the mines do something else, then they might not catch up,” said Frederick Bantubonse, the head of the Zambia Chamber of Mines.

The central bank said 2,885 tonnes of cobalt was produced in the eight months to August this year compared with 3,001 tonnes in the eight months to August 2006. Exports this year came in at 2,841 tonnes from the previous year’s 3,164 tonnes.

The Zambia Chamber of Mines, which collects and stores data from the vast copper mines of the mineral-rich southern African country, said in April that Zambia would achieve 670,000 tonnes of copper in 2007 from 515,000 tonnes in 2006.

Industry experts say problems of floods at some mines during the year, shortages of sulphuric acid and strikes over pay disputes have caused a slump in production of copper and cobalt at some of the mines.

Analysts say lower copper and cobalt exports usually result from stockpiling by the mines.

Flooding affected some of Zambia's major mines like the Mufulira mine, which is a unit of Mopani Copper Mines (MCM), a joint venture of Canada's First Quantum Minerals FM.TO and Swiss firm Glencore International AG.

Several mining units were also hit by strikes, which further cut down production, after pay disputes between the managements of the mines and the workers’ trade unions.

Copper production is Zambia’s main economic lifeblood and the vast mines are a major employer in this southern African country of 11.5 million people.

Analysts project that copper production will hit 1.2 million by 2010 following the opening of new mines and upgrades and expansions to existing ones. (Reporting by Shapi Shacinda, editing by Michael Roddy)

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