Mining in Indonesia: Smeltdown

INDONESIA’S government concedes that it will cause short-term damage; but on January 12th it went ahead and banned exports of mineral ores, at last implementing a law passed in 2009. Officials say that forcing mining firms to export only processed minerals will attract investment in smelters and refineries. After a year or so this will start to add value to the country’s exports, they say. But it is quite a gamble.Indonesia has few smelters, and earns $5 billion a year by exporting unprocessed minerals such as copper concentrate, nickel ores and bauxite. The mining ministry had admitted that an outright ban on ore shipments would cut exports by $4 billion this year and $2.5 billion next. With the country’s current-account deficit last year hitting 3.5% of GDP, its worst since 1986, and its currency falling steeply, this is a bad time to be forgoing foreign earnings.This may explain why the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, relaxed the moratorium at the last moment to let big copper producers keep exporting concentrate. (They will, however, have to pay stiff export taxes, rising from 25% this year to 60% in 2016.) Freeport Indonesia, an American-owned miner, had…

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