The mountainous geography across much of Iran helps to hide the non-hydrocarbon form of mineral wealth that helped the country stand the test of history. Iran is one of the world’s top 10 producers of ferrous and non-ferrous minerals, with 54 types of minerals being actively exported. Its proven reserves of some 37 billion tons of minerals, and an estimated 57 billion tons of potential reserves, give it some 7% of the world’s reserves of utilizable minerals. With major deposits of copper, iron ore, zinc, lead, chromate, and manganese, the mining sector in Iran is growing fast. The industry was estimated to directly employ 100,000 people, and provide employment opportunities for another half a million more in the 2009-2010 period, as the Deputy Minister of Industries and Mines, Mohammad Massoud Samieinejad told the press in July 2010. The jobs generated include those in the mining equipment and machinery industries, in which Iran has managed to make itself 90% self-sufficient through the efforts of leading local firms such as HEPCO. L. Saeedi, the Managing Director of HEPCO, told TBY that his company had worked extensively with foreign manufacturers such as Germany’s Liebherr and Japan’s Sakai in the past, and that they were always on the look out for new partners.
The mining industry generated some $8.13 billion in exports from 2Q 2009 to 1Q 2010, representing some 32% of the country’s non-oil exports, and 45% of total exports from the mining and industrial sector. Currently, there are some 5,574 mines in production across Iran, with another 20,375 industries dependent on the raw materials they excavate. The government aims to increase the current yearly mine production of 200 million tons to 500 million tons by the end of the Fifth Five-Year Development Plan (FYDP), and increase the mining sector’s GDP share from 0.8% to 1.2%. Incredibly, until 2009 the Ministry of Industry and Mines lacked a specialized mining department, and it is hoped that with more attention being given to the industry further growth prospects will open up, especially in the field of rare earth metals, which Iran has in abundance.
The main player in the local mining industry is the Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization (IMIDRO). IMIDRO’s operational subsidiaries are active in a variety of mining activities, such as for iron, bauxite, zinc, copper, and limestone. Foreign interest in the Iranian mining sector has grown in recent times as the private sector has strengthened its hand in the industry, with some $1.16 billion in FDI being recorded between 2006 and 2009. IMIDRO has reported being approached by mining groups from Russia, China, Turkey, India, and South Africa in 2010, all looking to secure a slice of Iran’s other source of wealth below the ground. IMIDRO has also announced that it plans to make $26 billion in investments over the course of the Fifth FYDP (2010-2015) in the mining industry.
Iran holds the world’s ninth largest iron ore reserves at 2.2 billion tons. In 2009, the country is estimated to have produced 30 million tons of iron ore, making it the world’s 8th largest producer. The mines located at Chadormalu and Gol-e-Gohar are the largest in terms of production, providing 9.5 million and 8 million tons of annual production respectively.
The iron ore price is set by the government for local manufacturers. The low price, by international standards, and the abundance of mines has given Iran a significant competitive advantage in the regional steel industry, although even this was unable to help steel producers hit by falling prices in 2008. The annual production of steel was estimated at 12 million tons at end-2009, making Iran the 19th largest manufacturer in the world and the second largest in Middle East region.
With around 2 billion tons of copper deposits and annual production of 220,000 tons of cathode copper, Iran makes up 1.2% of world’s copper production and is the 17th largest copper producer in the world and the largest in the region. National Iranian Copper Production Company (NICICO) announced in October 2010 that some IR40 trillion worth of projects were underway to expand copper production activities throughout the country, and once the projects are inaugurated, the cathode copper annual production capacity will reach 440,000 tons per annum. Exports of cathode copper production amounted to $1.2 billion in 2009, the highest value among the non-oil exported products. Iran aims to benefit from the increased demand for copper on the global markets. NICICO announced that it aims to improve the country’s rank in production to 11th or 12th in 3-4 years.
ZINC & LEAD
Iran has over 220 million tons of proven zinc and lead ore reserves, and the country has 5% of the world’s constituent reserves. In 2009, 165,000 tons of zinc and lead were produced, 77,000 tons of which were exported. Iran Zinc Mines Development Group is the largest producer, accounting for up to 80% of production. The sector suffered from commodity price fluctuations during the global economic crisis, but bounced back strongly in 2009. It is widely believed that there are still reserves of zinc and lead to be discovered in the northwestern part of the country. Although the two main mines at Mahdi-Abad, with 75 million tons of ore, and the Angouran mine, with 16 million tons, are presently out of production for technical reasons, other smaller producers, such as Bama Mining & Industrial and Bafgh Mines have stepped in and filled the production gap.
In 2010, Iran extracted some 5 tons of gold from its mining operations, many of which, such as the Aq-Darreh facility, are privately owned and operated. IMIDRO is looking to expand its activities in the gold mining sector, and is completing final work to initiate the Zarshouran mine in West Azerbaijan province. Once complete, IMIDRO estimates that the mine will add another 3 tons of gold production. This, however, is a drop in the bucket beside annual gold imports into Iran, which stood at 50 tons in 2009.
© The Business Year