Chinese-Tajik antimony project delayed by coronavirus

DUSHANBE/BEIJING, March 31 (Reuters) - A Chinese-Tajik antimony and gold mining joint venture has delayed its start-up by about three months, Tajik state metals firm TALCO said on Tuesday, as borders were closed by the coronavirus outbreak.

TALCO Gold, jointly owned by TALCO and China’s Tibet Huayu Mining Co, planned to start producing antimony, a metal used in batteries and fire retardants, from the Konchoch deposits in western Tajikistan this month.

However TALCO communications director Igor Sattarov wrote in an op-ed piece on Tuesday that the start-up is now expected by the middle of this year. He did not explain the reason for the delay and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Tajikistan has closed its borders and suspended the issuance of work permits for foreigners as it seeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The Dushanbe government has confirmed no cases of the disease so far.

Tibet Huayu did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

However, a Tajik government source and a source at the Chinese company both said the project would be pushed back by three months.

“Construction crews and equipment are not allowed into the country yet,” the Tibet Huayu source said.

TALCO Gold aims to eventually produce 10% of the global output of antimony, giving Tibet Huayu Mining a 27% share of the market as it also produces elsewhere. Production is already dominated by Chinese miners. (Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov in Dushanbe and Tom Daly in Beijing; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov and Jan Harvey)