September 15, 2017 / 5:46 AM / in 9 months

Russia's Norilsk boosts China team ahead of launch of big copper mine

BEIJING (Reuters) - Russia’s Norilsk Nickel has boosted its trading team in China as it prepares to start up a copper, iron and gold mine in the far east of Russia, the world’s second-largest nickel producer told Reuters.

The logo of Russia's miner Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) is seen on a board at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017 (SPIEF 2017) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2017. Picture taken June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Moscow-based Nornickel in August hired Li Chunlan to market copper concentrate and Zhao Xin to market iron ore from the Bystrinsky mine. Li’s role will also involve finding customers for nickel concentrate, people familiar with the appointment said.

The Bystrinksy project, just 90 kilometres (56 miles) from the Chinese border in Russia’s Chita region, is scheduled to start up in the fourth quarter of this year.

“We have reinforced our (China) sales and logistics teams appropriately to be able to handle all commercial aspects of the new product flows effectively,” Markus Meurer, Nornickel’s head of global sales and marketing, said by email.

The launch of the mine comes amid long-term concerns about global supply of some base metals, with the world’s largest and oldest mines in Chile and elsewhere gradually becoming depleted.

It also comes as copper prices remain elevated by concerns about capacity cuts in China, the world’s top consumer, even as demand growth slows.

The strengthening of the team marks an effort by Nornickel, which already markets refined nickel from within China, the world’s biggest copper and iron ore consumer, to be closer to key customers for other metals.

Previously, the company sold nickel concentrate in China through its European office and did not have any copper concentrate sales presence in the country, a Nornickel source said.

The company also has offices in Beijing and Hong Kong.

Bystrinsky, in which the Chinese-owned Highland Fund has a 13.33-percent stake, contains up to 343 million tonnes of ore reserves, Nornickel said in its first-half earnings presentation on Aug. 15.

The company describes the mine as one of the 10 largest developed copper deposits in the world. Bystrinsky also contains gold, silver and iron ore.

“We expect it to become a new focus of growth for Nornickel, against the backdrop of an optimistic outlook for the copper market and in particular for Chinese demand for high-quality copper concentrates,” Meurer said.

China imported 1.44 million tonnes of copper concentrate in August, down fractionally from 1.45 million tonnes a year earlier, according to customs data released last week.

Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Joseph Radford

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