LAOS is reviewing a ban on new mining concessions that had been due to last until 2015 in a move aimed at opening up the country to mining investment again over the next two years. Laos suspended all new mining concessions two years ago, in response to concerns over the environmental and social impact of certain projects.

According to official figures, Laos has approved a total of 470 mining projects worth US$5.9 billion, the state-run Vientiane Times newspaper reports. Copper accounted for the largest share of mining investments, at nearly 40%, followed by iron, gold and coal.

A report from the Ministry of Planning and Investment states just under 40% of the investment projects involve copper mining, making it probable that copper will remain as the top export commodity in Laos over the years to come. The total area the government has approved since 2000 for copper exploration and extraction is 14,463sqkm, according to the report which was distributed during the latest National Assembly session in December.

The government made the report to the lawmakers after facing complaints from people over the impact of certain mining projects, which forced the government to suspend all new mining concessions until 2015. The government has reviewed mining projects around the country as part of efforts to open mining investment again over the next two years.

The report says the second largest mining investment is in iron ore, which accounts for around 14% of total mining efforts. Since 2000, the government approved 29 mining projects, with the tenements covering a combined area of 3428sqkm.

The third largest mining investment is gold, which accounts for around 9.5% of total mining projects. Since 2000, the government approved 24 gold mining projects, which cover 4394sqkm. The fourth largest mineral extraction effort goes into coal, which accounts for 8.8% of total mining investment. There are 18 coal projects with total area of 2782sqkm.

There are two combined operating copper and gold projects. One is the Phu Bia mining project in Xaysomboun, now officially designated as a province, while the other is the Sepon mine in Savannakhet. Most iron and coal mining projects are still in the survey and development phase, with proponents hoping that the projects will yield metal and coal in the near future.

According to the report, the committee, which was formed to inspect mining projects, has proposed to suspend eight mining investment projects, or 3.09% of total mining investment, after finding that the projects fail to follow the concession agreements.

The government has a policy to promote the export of semi-refined and finished mining products as part of efforts to add more value to the natural resources extracted before exporting them to world markets. The government believes that the establishment of processing plants will not only create jobs and income for Lao people but also create export goods for the country after it joined the World Trade Organization last year and is set to become a part of the Asean Economic Community in 2015.

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