Harare - Zimbabwe on Tuesday lifted a four-year ban on chrome ore exports.
The country also licensed 12 private companies and a state-owned firm to ship excess ore for smelting outside the country and lowered electricity tariffs for miners of the base metal from 8 cents to 6.7c per Kilowatt hour, two cabinet ministers confirmed.
The mineral-rich country holds about 12% of the world’s chromite reserves, with South Africa holding 70%. Zimbabwe's Mines Minister Walter Chidhakwa said in Harare that the ban was lifted to promote growth of the chrome mining sector, while Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said mining is a crucial “low hanging sector” which needs all the fiscal support it can get to spur it to growth.
“A (chrome ore export) ban that is not supported by South Africa will not succeed,” Chidhakwa said. He added that the ban had not resulted in additional smelting capacity because of a decline in international prices, high electricity tariffs and a lack of efficient and modern technology for processing chrome ore to ferrochrome.
“The government has with immediate effect lifted the ban to allow for the export of 30 million tonnes of chrome ore,” said Chidhakwa. He also announced that the government has upped the royalty on chrome mining from 2% to 5%.
Chinamasa said there are companies sitting on idle claims and added that the government is geared to make sure that the country's assets are put to use.
He said he is hopeful that the lifting of the ban would help create employment and enable companies to contribute more to state revenues through increased productivity. Some firms have slowed down or stopped production, according to industry sources.
A special purpose vehicle will undertake export of chrome fines on a tolling basis. This format of the mineral will be shipped for processing in South Africa.
Zimbabwe has a current chrome ore production capacity of 1.5 million tonnes per year and limited smelting capacity of 455 200 tonnes per year. Chidhakwa said all chrome exports out of Zimbabwe will be conducted under the auspices of the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, and facilitated by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.
This is expected to help chrome miners such as Zimasco in Zimbabwe enhance capacity and expand operations.
About eight of the 12 smelting companies licensed to export chrome are expected to kick-start exports immediately, while the other four are likely to take some time as they are facing challenges.