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Belgium.

Belgium

POLITICALLY, 1990 was quiet and the government was mainly concerned with ways of reducing its debt. Belgium remains governed by a coalition of parties headed by the Flemish Christian Democrat, Wilfried Maertens, assisted by two vice-premiers. The Liberal parties are in opposition. The country's population is just under 10 million, including 1 million foreigners, mostly from Mediterranean countries; the number of refugees from the Eastern Bloc is, however, increasing. Unemployment currently represents 8.2% of the workforce.

Iron and Steel

Belgium's main producer remained Cockerill Sambre, with a total turnover in 1989 of BFr188,000 million. Cockerill Sambre continued its aim of specializing more and more in the production of steelplate, which now comprises 36% of its turnover. In 1989 4.5 Mt of steelplate products were produced by Cockerill Sambre. The other main steel producer in Belgium, Sidmar, the Belgian daughter of Arbed, produced 3.5 Mt of steelplate in 1989 and realized a turnover of BFr60,000 million.

Coal

The production of the only two mines remaining active (Beringen and Zolder) fell further to 1.440 Mt in 1990 (from 1.916 Mt in 1989). By the end of 1991, these two last mines will also cease operation. Belgium now gets most of its coal requirements from South Africa.

Non-Ferrous Metals

Societe Generale de Belgique is the largest group of companies in Belgium, and one of the largest in Europe. At the end of 1989, group capital and reserves stood at BFr140,632 million ($US4,136 million), which is twice the level of just four years ago. Eleven key comanies account for 74% of the group's total net asset value. Two of these |key' companies are ACEC-Union Miniere and Sibeka.

Societe Generale holds 82.1% of ACEC-Union Miniere and a further 6.1% indirectly as a result of the merger of ACEC and Union Miniere in July last year. Metallurgie Hoboken-Overpelt, Vieille-Montagne and Mechim were taken over by ACEC-Union Miniere at the end of 1989, thus establishing an integrated non-ferrous metals group.

Turnover in 1989 increased by some BFr12,500 million to reach BFr176,000 million. Profit jumped to almost BFr20,000 million from barely BFr1,300 million one year ago.

Vieille-Montagne is the largest producer of crude zinc in the world, with mines in Sweden and the U.S., and is among the leader for most zinc derivatives.

The MHO division is the largest refiner of copper in Europe and the largest processor of germanium and cobalt in the world. It has also developed specialized knowledge of complex metallurgy in the areas of lead, precious and speciality metals. This unit is expected to improve the vertical integration of its activities and to undertake further reorganizations to improve competitiveness.

ACEC-Union Miniere holds 25% of Societe Aurifere de Guinee. Production of the placer gold deposit in Guinea began in the latter half of 1988 and reached 39,000 oz last year, despite technical problems which have since been solved. ACEC-Union Miniere, which is operator of the mine, is looking to double known gold reserves and to expand production.

ACEC-UM purchased during the year 21% of Mexicana de Cananea, which won the bid for restarting the Cananea copper mine in Mexico. Mexicana de Cananea, with a capital of $US390 million, launched a $US475 million bid for the Cananea copper mine. Including working capital, the total investment in the Cananea copper mine amounts to $US505 million. ACEC-UM contributed $US85 million to this investment, their Mexican partners $US305 million, while the remaining $US15 million were underwritten by the Banque Generale and Banque Indosuez. Cananea should deliver in the future 90,000 t/y of copper blister to Sogem, ACEC-UM's trading arm. ACEC-UM refines in total 330,000 t/y of copper in the Hoboken and Olen plants. The Olen plant depends now for two-fifths of supply from Gecamines in Zaire. The Cananea mine should represent between 22% and 23% of ACEC-UM's copper requirements.

Diamonds

Antwerp remains the world's leading diamond trading centre. Manufacturing of diamonds in Belgium continued its downward trend as the labour cost proves too high in comparison with India, Thailand and Malaysia. However, larger stones and special cuts are still preferably polished in Antwerp. Total value of turnover of diamond trading in Antwerp amounted in 1990 to $US16,000 million. About 50% of the value of this turnover is from imports and exports of rough diamonds.

The main suppliers of diamonds to Antwerp are the CSO through its sightholders and the independent African producers. In U.S. dollar terms, the 1990 Antwerp trading turnover more or less equals the 1989 turnover figure.

At the end of the year, the Societe Generale de Belgique sold its 54.4% stake in Sibeka ACEC-Union Miniere for BFr6,900 million or about $US218 million. The other main shareholder of Sibeka is De Beers. Sibeka has stakes in Miba of Zaire and Mineracao Tejucana of Brazil. It produces synthetic diamonds and markets them through Diamant Boart.

During 1989-90 Nicron SA (an Australian Pb-Zn mining company) invested around $US2 million to develop the Penarroya concession of Bleiberg in NE Belgium. Nicron had an option on all Pb-Zn Penarroya concessions in France and Belgium. Bugeco SA (50%-owned by Mechim) was hired by Nicron and 1.2 Mt of ores with 13% Zn and 4% PB was recognized by drilling under last century's underground mining exploitation. Negotiations between Nicron (now owned 75% by Amax) and potential partners (Billiton, BRGM and Union Miniere-Vieille Montagne) are under way for increasing the potential reserves in the area.

BELGIAN MINERAL PRODUCTION

(Mt, unless otherwise stated)
Commodity                          Output
                        1988      1989      1990
Cast iron              9.144     8.868     9.520
Steel                 11.220    10.952    11.523
Coal                   2.487     1.916     1.440
Copper                 0.504     0.563     0.554
Zinc                   0.324     0.306     0.355
Zinc dust (t)         38,000    41,000    53,000
Lead (t)             127,000   109,000   102,000
Tin (t)                5,000     6,000     6,000
Cadmium (t)            1,800     1,800     1,900


Precious metals

(Au, Ag, Pt) (t) 1,200 1,100 1,100
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Title Annotation:Belgium's mineral industry in 1990
Author:Goosens, Pierre J.; Rombouts, Luc
Publication:Mining Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Words:1012
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