Eritrea: Sichuan bridge-builder goes into gold mining

Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG, 四川路桥集团), recently written about in this blog in connection with its first European contract, the Hålogaland bridge in Norway, has been diversifying into a rather different area. Finance and Investment (金融投资报) reported in late October that SRBG will enter a partnership with the Eritrean government to explore for gold and other metals in a 1000 km2 area in the Bisha-Zara region. The exploration phase, expected to last between three and five years, could require an investment of around $33m.

The first major mining project in Eritrea, the Bisha mine, a joint venture between the Eritrean government and Nevsun from Canada, produced gold from 2011 until a few months ago, when it switched to copper. Nevsun has been criticised for relying in its Eritrean partner’s use of conscripts as “forced labour“, a charge the company denied at a subcommittee meeting in the Canadian Parliament. Eritrea had received a $60m Chinese loan to start the Bisha project in 2007.

SFECO, a Shanghai government-owned company also active in Eritrea, bought a 60% interest in the Zara gold mine from Chalice in September last year.