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JISCO upsizes Alpart redevelopment to US$3b

Published:Thursday | September 22, 2016 | 12:00 AMSteven Jackson
The Alpart factory in Nain, St Elizabeth.

The planned investment in Jamaica by Chinese-owned Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO) got upsized from US$2 billion to US$3 billion for the upgrade of Alpart's alumina plant and further expansion into a special economic zone.

At the announcement on Thursday, Mining Minister Mike Henry downplayed talk of plans by JISCO to build a coal plant in St Elizabeth as premature.

Henry told the Financial Gleaner, following a signing ceremony between the Jamaican Government and JISCO, that the energy ministry has yet to set the policy on that development.

"This project will see the spending of almost US$3 billion in five to six years," Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Jamaica Niu Quingbao told reporters at a press conference.

"This project is endorsed by the Chinese government ... and my presence also means that I endorse the project," the ambassador said.

In describing himself as an environmentalist at heart, Henry said the decision on coal is at least another 18 months away.

"This is a development right now in which there will be 18 months of readjusting, inheriting, changing and assessing what is to be done by JISCO," the mining minister said. "What energy you use to drive the thing will depend on the economics, together with the environmental concerns and the rules of the country."

Coal remains controversial for Jamaica, which earns from agriculture and tourism.

Chairman of JISCO Chen Chunming said through an interpreter, during the formal event, that JISCO would work to overcome challenges in implementation - an apparent acknowledgment of environ-mental concerns surrounding the coal plant.

"People wonder about the sustainability. China has the most advanced alumina-processing techniques in the world. I can promise you that we will bring the most environmentally friendly techniques along with energy solutions," the chairman said. "Before we make any decision we take everything into consideration."

In July, Russian mining company UC Rusal formally signed a deal for the US$300-million sale of its 1.6-million-tonne Alpart alumina refinery in Jamaica to JISCO.

JISCO plans for its new acquisition include a 500,000-tonne-a-year aluminium smelter.