How are governments supporting miners in the post-coronavirus world?

Matthew Hall 5 August 2020 (Last Updated August 5th, 2020 17:32)

This week, Western Australia outlined its Covid-19 recovery plan, with part of the stimulus package geared towards stimulating mining exploration in the state. This is just one of the ways governments are supporting the mining industry as it bounces back from Covid-19.

How are governments supporting miners in the post-coronavirus world?
Mining is vital to several countries‘ economic recovery plans. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Mines around the world have been hotspots for Covid-19 outbreaks and Poland’s mining-reliant Silesia region is one area where efforts to suppress the virus have been ineffective. After mines worldwide were temporarily suspended or forced to reduce operating capacity as part of national efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus, there has been a steady ramp-up of operations as the initial wave of Covid-19 infections passes and nations begin working on their economic recovery. After a difficult start to the year for the mining industry, governments are supporting miners to promote a quick economic bounce-back.

Australia

The Government of Western Australia has announced it will allocate AUD8.2m ($5.8m) for resource exploration in the state, as part of the state’s AUD5.5bn ($3.56bn) Covid-19 recovery plan.

The funding in Western Australia (WA) comprises an extra AUD5m for the Exploration Incentive Scheme (EIS), increasing the scheme’s total funding to AUD15m. The EIS is an initiative to encourage exploration in WA and supports five high-level programmes, including co-funded exploration drilling and promoting strategic research in exploration.

The remaining $3.2m will go towards purchasing Australia’s first CAMECA-1300 ion microprobe. In addition to its geoscience applications, the instrument will be used to support the Australian Space Agency’s interest in increasing Australian participation in international deep space sample return missions.

WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said: “The new ion microprobe instrument is next-generation, it will be an Australian-first and one of only five in the world. It will revolutionise our understanding of how and when Western Australia’s key mineral deposits formed.

“Our resources industry are already world-leaders in technology and research; having access to the ion microprobe will provide the State with a unique technological advantage to discover the next generation of resources.”

Last week, the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) set out its agenda for supporting the post-coronavirus recovery in Australia’s Northern Territory, with a four-year plan outlining plans for more development and jobs, increased investment in skills development, and closer community engagement in the territory. The MCA outlined several potential projects that could unlock further economic potential in the Northern Territory. According to the council, the economic value of the resource sector’s contribution to the Northern Territory’s economy in 2018-19 totalled AUD6.6bn ($4.76bn).

South Africa

The Minerals Council South Africa has been supportive of the strategy proposals from Business for South Africa (B4SA), which it claims would help economic growth to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the South African economic crisis that preceded it. The Minerals Council has worked to develop the strategy as it pertains to mining, and has outlined several key areas that need to be urgently addressed. These areas include regulatory reform, modernisation, infrastructure development and a renewed exploration strategy.

Minerals Council CEO Roger Baxter said: “The South African economy was in a crisis even before COVID-19 struck with declining international competitiveness, a collapse in business and investor confidence, falling investment, low levels of economic growth, rising unemployment and accelerating poverty and social upheaval.

COVID-19 has pushed South Africa further into the precipice, with at least 1 million jobs already lost, an estimated 8% decline in GDP likely in 2020, a fiscal deficit that has bourgeoned to nearly 15% of GDP and public debt that is likely to exceed 100% of GDP in a couple of years. South Africa is at a critical fork in the road and it can choose to follow the low road or the high road.”

The council defines the “low road” as the route where South Africa continues to pursue “investor unfriendly policies” which causes the country to continue towards a sovereign debt default crisis which harms the whole of South African society. The “high road” is where the country’s leaders “adopt a significant pro-competitiveness structural and institutional reform agenda”, this will enable the country to “realise its true economic and transformational potential to the benefit of all”, according to the Minerals Council.

Canada

Miners operating in Canada are covered by some of the Canadian government’s Covid-19 support programs such as the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, which provides almost CAD1bn ($755m) in support to mitigate financial pressures experienced by businesses to allow them to continue operating and to pay employees, as well as to support projects that will prepare the country for a successful economic recovery.

The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) has engaged with the federal government so that the concerns of the Canadian mining sector can be heard. PDAC has recommended that the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy be expanded to include pre-revenue companies, which generate no revenue as calculated by normal methods. Many junior mineral exploration companies in Canada do not meet the revenue decline requirements to be eligible for the subsidy but are nonetheless in a perilous position owing to the pandemic. In a letter dated 3 June, PDAC said that almost half of the publicly listed exploration companies in Canada were operating with negative working capital.