India and Kazakhstan are laying the groundwork for a string of greenfield mining and mineral projects through government-to-government deals during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming visit to the central Asian nation.
On the Indian side, an inter-Ministerial working group comprising representatives from the Coal, Steel and Mines Ministries had been set up to identify potential mining projects in Kazakhstan.
The group is coordinating with the External Affairs Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to pave the way for formal bilateral agreements to be signed during Modi’s two-day visit on July 8 and 9.
Tentative contours of the India-Kazakhstan collaboration in mining projects, as available from an official in the Mines Ministry, indicate that projects on the anvil include iron-ore, coal and potash exploration projects and government-backed joint ventures to expand existing mining ventures or to set up greenfield projects at explored mineral assets in the central Asian country.
India government-owned and -managed NMDC Limited, the country’s largest iron-ore miner, is expected to spearhead joint collaborations from the Indian side. In fact, a Kazakhstan delegation visiting India earlier this week had held a series of meeting with Indian counterparts, as preparatory work for Modi’s visit, a Mines Ministry official said.
While the final projects would be the call of the PMO and summit talks between the two countries, designated Ministries were pushing to conclude at least two or three memorandums of understanding pertaining to coal and potash, India being short on both energy fuel and fertiliser minerals, the official said.
It was pointed out that NMDC was the natural choice to lead Indian investments in the Kazakhstan mining sector considering that it was the most successful of several government mining and metal companies in marking a presence overseas and had strategic plans to expand business portfolio beyond iron-ore. Also, NMDC had working knowledge on the mining environment in Kazakhstan.
The company had previously explored opportunities in coal in Kazakhstan, but this had made little headway. With limited opportunities to expand mining operations within the country, the Indian miner was increasing its focus overseas including new exploration in Legacy Iron Ore, its Australian subsidiary and Russian potash firm, Acron.
An overseas resource base for potash was critical for India’s requirement of the fertiliser mineral considering that it was entirely import dependent for production of potassic fertilisers, shipping in about 5-million tons a year of potash from global markets.