Myanmar Junta to Sell Metal Worth US$51 Million

By The Irrawaddy 28 June 2021

Myanmar’s military regime is selling metal worth at least US$51 million as it seeks to raise hard currency to fund its coup. The junta-controlled Ministry of Mines (MOM) has invited bids in US dollars for copper cathode and by-products from metal mines.

The MOM announced in state-controlled newspapers that it will sell 5,008 metric tons of copper cathode by open tender on July 21, based on London Metal Exchange prices.

It has also invited bids for 300,000 tons of smelter slag and 140,000 tons of mill tailings from Bawdwin Mine in Namtu, Shan State, as well as 69 metric tons of lead ore from a mine in Loilem, Shan State and 20 metric tons of antimony ore from a mine in Heho, Shan State. Tenders are to be submitted by July 26.

Refined copper cathode / Inter Metals & Trading

When similar items were put out to tender in December last year, a metric ton of copper cathode sold for US$7,970, while a metric ton of smelter slag sold for US$38.10. From those figures, the value of the metal to be sold in July is estimated to be at least US$51 million.

Myanmar receives a share of copper cathode from the copper mines it operates as joint ventures with Chinese-run mining companies. The Irrawaddy has found that when copper cathode and other metals were sold under tender by previous governments, most of the buyers were Chinese firms.

Letpadaung copper mine seen in 2012

To meet its high demand for metal, China buys up all the metal from Wa State, a self-administered region in Shan State, as well as all the rare earth metals from Panwar in Kachin State. The Chinese-owned Myanmar Wanbao Co, which operates a copper mine in Sagaing Region’s Salingyi Township, also buys most of the copper cathode sold by the Myanmar government.

Two other Chinese companies – Myanmar Apex and Cornerstone Resources (Myanmar) – are the usual buyers of smelter slag and mill tailings from the Bawdwin Mine.

Refinery run by the Chinese-owned Myanmar Apex Co in Namtu

Myanmar Apex extracts zinc from the old lava dumps at the Bawdwin mine and supplies it to China. Cornerstone Resources (Myanmar) operates a refinery at Tangyan Township in northern Shan State.

Copper is extracted from the Letpadaung, Sabetaung and Kyisintaung mines in Salingyi Township in Sagaing Region, with copper production essentially monopolized by the Chinese companies Myanmar Yang Tse and Myanmar Wanbao Co.

Men play caneball with a large pile of smelter slag in the background

The controversial Letpadaung copper mine is operated by Myanmar Wanbao Co, with Myanmar receiving 51 percent of the profits under a new contract signed in 2013, Myanmar Wanbao Co receiving 30 percent and the military-run Myanma Economic Holdings, 19 percent.

Until the Second World War, the Bawdwin mine was the world’s largest producer of lead, as well as one of the biggest producers of silver on the planet. A large amount of smelter slag has been left over from the extraction of silver. Chinese companies buy the smelter slag and extract lead, zinc and other minerals to export to China. They also buy mill tailings from Bawdwin to extract minerals to be exported to China.

The ground where mill tailings are dumped in Namtu

The Bawdwin mine was nationalized in 1965, three years after the coup led by Ne Win, and was handed over to the Asia World Company owned by U Htun Myint Naing, a son of the late drug lord Lo Hsing Han. The company’s subsidiary, Win Myint Mo Industries Co Ltd, operates a number of open pit mines at Bawdwin. The Bawdwin mine was subsequently privatized in 2010.

Machinery of Win Myint Mo Industries Co seen in 2015 in Bawdwin

The Bawdwin Joint Venture Co Ltd is planning to resume operations at Bawdwin by 2023. The joint venture includes two domestic companies – EAP Global Mining Co Ltd and Win Myint Mo Industries Co Ltd – which each have a 24.5 percent stake and Australia’s Myanmar Metals Limited with a 51 percent stake.

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