Canadian miner First Quantum Minerals has exercised its option over two licences in the Central African Copperbelt in a deal with African Pioneer, as it seeks to recover from financial damage caused by the closure of its copper mine in Panama.

An addendum to an October 2023 agreement will grant First Quantum a two-year earn-in period over two of the four licences held by African Pioneer’s Zambian subsidiary in the Copperbelt. The area stretches from northern Zambia and the southern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and it has a plethora of copper resources.

Going forward, the Canadian miner has to prepare a technical report before the end of February, demonstrating an indicated mineral resource of at least 300,000 tonnes of contained copper, to be able to earn a 51% shareholding in African Pioneer Zambia.

First Quantum already has two copper projects in Zambia at Sentinel and Kansanshi, in addition to the Fishtie copper project near the border with the DRC.

Market speculators indicated that First Quantum was planning to sell a stake in its Zambia mines to Chinese state-owned Jiangxi Copper, the company’s top shareholder.

In December, the company announced it was accelerating the development of its Fishtie copper project, with the goal of commencing production in 2026.

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Zambia is Africa’s second-largest copper producer and its government plans to triple its copper output by the end of the decade, incentivised by tweaks to fiscal policy such as tax rates. Nevertheless, power outage issues caused by poor grid connectivity have put the brakes on copper production.

Last November, Panama’s supreme court declared First Quantum’s copper mine in the nation unconstitutional after thousands of locals protested against its operation owing to environmental concerns. The mine accounted for 40% of the company’s revenues, hence it has been looking to recover since its enforced closure.