Iran’s mining potential has put Iran on the list of the 15 wealthiest countries, when it comes to mining reserves. Plus, some 11 percent of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and 18 percent of its proven gas reserves belong to Iran. It’s true that the oppressive sanctions against Iran have thwarted Iran’s economic plans but mining activity has been going on in the country over all these sanction-ridden years, so much so that there are currently some 5,000 active mines in Iran.
In light of the country’s 20 year development outlook plan, Iran is looking to become a major global contender in terms of mineral industries and is bound to attain competitive conditions fast. At the moment, the administration of Mr. Rouhani, has sent the country’s sixth development plan to Parliament to be passed as a law. The designers of this major plan, have charted the necessary levels of industrial expansion essential for accomplishing those grand industrial objectives, as being somewhere around 12 percent. Moreover they’re of the opinion that in the course of reaching that target, there should be an annual economic growth of up to 8 percent minimum to enable that.
Given the vastness of god given resources that Iran enjoys, it's no wonder why many foreign companies would be potentially enough interested to invest in it. In addition to enormous iron and copper reserves, Iran enjoys a wealth of 200 various mining sites, which yield a variety of 33 products. These are gold, silver, turquoise, ruby, sapphire, agate, etc. This is not to forget, other more industrial-grade valuable mineral commodities, such as titanium, uranium, manganese, zinc, and many other items, which taken together can help wean Iran off petrodollars.
Huge potential of iron ore, aluminum, copper and zinc
Iran with roughly one percent of the world's population holds more than 7 percent of the world's total mineral reserves. Iran’s deposits that are largely underdeveloped include zinc (world's tenth largest, reserves of Mehdiabad is not included), copper (world's seventh largest), iron (world's eighth largest), uranium (world's tenth largest) and lead (world's eleventh largest). There are approximately 5,000 mines in operation in Iran, with 12 metals and 36 non-metal ores currently being exploited. The potential is huge for investors and mining companies.
In 2014, 400Mt of minerals were extracted, making it one of the leading mineral producers in the Middle East. Iran is one the 15 most mineral rich countries in the world, with mining products representing more than 30 percent of the country’s non-oil exports, employing more than 100,000 people directly and up to half a million indirectly.
According to WSA (World Steel Association) in 2014, Iran’s iron ore output was 48.5 million tons of iron ore, making it the ninth largest iron ore producer in world ranking. There are over 200 ore deposits, indications or anomalies of ore in Iran, with total estimated reserves of 4.5 billion tons of iron ore. The average grade of iron in these reserves varies from 45 to 60 percent iron. Roughly, Iran accounts for 2.7 to 3 percent of the world’s total iron reserves, but contributes only one percent to global production. Gol Gohar iron ore mine in Kerman Province in south-eastern Iran and Chadornmalu iron ore mine in central Iran, the two largest iron ore mines in Iran, produce 80 percent of Iran’s total iron ore output.
Iran’s main reserves of bauxite are located in the northeastern city of Jajarm, North Khorasan Province; these reserves are very limited. Lack of enough reserves always has been considered as a threat to aluminum smelting business in Iran. Although there is lack of bauxite reserves, Iran is relying on its energy sources to expand aluminum smelter capacity and there are some large aluminum projects. The implementation of development projects can boost aluminium production to 1.5 million tons by 2025 and turn Iran into one of the top 10 producers in the world.
Iran Alumina Company, currently the major supplier of alumina to the country's giant aluminum smelters such as Iralco and Almahdi, has been granted to extract Jajarm bauxite reserves. But since the company is planning to establish smelter to produce aluminum ingots in order to complete its value chain, it would probably consume its entire alumina and therefore other aluminum producers will be forced to import all of their required raw materials. What is certain is that the country needs more bauxite reserves to produce more alumina so officials are been moved towards overseas reserves. Iran has an agreement with Guinea Conakry in Africa to explore and extract 600 million tons of bauxite reserves.
When it comes to copper, Iran has some big world class mines. The country is located on one of world’s well-known copper belts, which stretches from the northwest to southeast of Iran and then enters into Pakistan. Iran accounts for approximately 22 million tons of copper reserves or about 3 percent of the world’s total reserves. Copper ore production in Iran accounts for 75 percent of the total production in the Middle East. National Iranian Copper Industries Company (NICICO) is one of the largest companies listed on the Tehran Stock Exchange and was the largest non-oil exporter in Iran in 2010 with exports worth USD 1.3 billion. The biggest copper mines are Sarcheshmeh (Kerman Province), Miduk (Kerman Province) and Songon copper mines (East Azarbayjan Province).
With approximately 3.6 million tons of zinc metal content and 1.5 million tons of lead metal content, Iran has just 1.8 percent of world zinc (world tenth) and 1.5 percent of world lead reserves (world eleventh). Angoran mine, Irankouh mine and Emarat mine are three big lead and zinc mines which are currently being exploited. However in possess world largest undeveloped Mehdiabad lead and mine resource. The mine is a world-class oxide, sulfide and mixed oxide/sulfide zinc, lead and silver deposit. It has more than 400 million tons of reserves, 70 percent of which is zinc and the rest are lead, silver and barite (165 million tons proved reserve with higher than 7 percent grade and 400 million tons of probable reserve with lower than 7 percent zinc grade, about 4 percent). Operation at the mine started several years ago after a joint venture was formed between the Australian company Union Capital Limited and Iran mining and engineering company Itok. But after the two investors demanded that the government give up the ownership of the mine, the operation in Mehdiabad came to a halt so Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization (IMIDRO) as the owner of the mine terminated the contract and called for a new tender.
Currently Angoran mine is the main supplier of lead and zinc ore for processing facilities but based on last reserve estimations, the mine life will be ten years. After depletion of deposits of Angoran mine, Mehdiabad is supposed to be the main supplier of zinc and lead to domestic industries.
The most unexplored
Despite being among the most resource-rich countries on Earth, Iran is also one of the most unexplored mining rich. Less than one-tenth of its surface area has been fully surveyed so far. This has caught the attention of many foreign investors and global mining firms, such as Rio Tinto, which have visited Iran for talks with officials.
The systematic geological study of Iran only started in the 1960s after the geological survey of Iran was established. There are 6 distinct phases of mineralization in Iran from the Early Cambrian to the Quaternary.
Mine as an alternative to oil
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that the country’s significant potential in the mining sector should be realized as an alternative to oil. “The oil market, which falls from $100 to $40 following a sign from world powers and then actions by wicked elements in the region, is by no means reliable and we have to find an appropriate alternative. The mining sector is the best alternative,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a meeting.
The mining sector is expected to play a pivotal role in Iran’s economy but because of the dominance of the oil sector, the share of mining has been reduced to a negligible figure, especially since sanctions have limited any form of international funding to allow international mining giants to pro-actively invest in Iran.
From 1997 to 2001, the share of mining (as a percentage of GDP, based on current prices) remained around 0.66 percent, whereas the figures based on the fixed prices of 1990 have grown from 0.97 percent to 1.25 percent. Given the natural riches of Iran, mining’s mere 1 percent share of GDP cannot be considered as appropriate and offers immense opportunity for growth and reveals the potential demand for investment in the sector.
Policies are changing
The existing public enterprises and large state-owned market players are no longer the most efficient way of running the economy and that Iran believes a wide-ranging reform is necessary for its economy to attract foreign investment
This is particularly poignant at present given the substantial drop in government oil revenues in the last few years. By the end of the current Five-Year Development Plan, which began in 2010, the government expected to boost the mining sector's contribution to GDP to 4 percent as well as total mineral production to 500 million tons.
Some big investment proposals have already been floated such as USD 3 billion investment proposition by National Aluminum Company of India (one of the largest trading partners of the country).
Obstacles which changed to promotions
Restrictions exerted by the constitution of the country on investment by foreign financial institutions had formed the major obstacle till 2001 but the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act, which was passed in 2002, gives foreigners 100 percent ownership rights, residence visas valid for three years and the opportunity to transfer their profits out of the country in foreign currencies. It also offers a number of tax exemptions that, in some conditions, can rise to 100 percent of an enterprise’s profits. In an effort to reassure investors even further, the act guarantees that the government will pay compensation for any investments in projects that are nationalized or expropriated.
Currently, 90 percent of the country’s mines are in state hands (predominantly through Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization (IMIDRO)) but the government publicly stated in 2015 its intentions to further develop the sector through private and foreign investment-in particular copper, iron ore and aluminum; IMIDRO will be the arm of government to attract private oe foreign investment.
Mehdi Karbasian, Chairman of the board of IMIDRO, said that Iran has extensive plan for mines and mining industries sector development which requires USD 40 billion investment to develop steel, aluminum, copper, zinc and mineral sectors related to mine sector such as exploration and infrastructure affairs which could be a foreign Iran joint venture opportunity. IMIDRO provides proper conditions for obtaining the required licenses based on priorities. All steps of investment and investment attraction process will be performed under the law of foreign investment attraction guaranteed by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for return or outflow of capital from country.
The sixth development plan and development projects in Iran’s mines and mining industries sector are appropriate opportunities for foreign investors; Karbasian said.
Iran in the sixth development plan starting on March 2017, seeks to attract USD 250 billion investments in oil and gas, infrastructures, industries and mines and mining industries sectors. This create a golden opportunity for foreign firms such as banks, equipment suppliers, investors, insurances, etc., which lead to development of bilateral strategic and long term relations.