Rio Tinto and Saudi Arabia-backed Manara Minerals Investment are planning to pick stakes in First Quantum Minerals’ Zambian copper mines, Bloomberg reported.

People privy to the development told the news agency that the Sentinel and Kansanshi mines are also attracting attention from Chinese companies such as Zijin Mining Group.

Japanese trading houses Mitsui and Sumitomo are also said to have been assessing the assets, indicating a broad spectrum of potential bidders.

However, the sale process is still in its early stages, and there is no certainty that the interested parties will submit formal bids.

First Quantum Minerals is reportedly considering the sale of up to a 30% stake in its Zambian copper mines.

It is seeking initial bids in the coming weeks, with the extent of the stake sale dependent on the offers received.

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This move comes as the company looks to restructure its operations following the mandated closure of its flagship copper mine in Panama last year due to public protests.

For Saudi Arabia, acquiring a stake in the Zambian mines would align with its strategy to diversify its economy and secure metal supplies for its industrial growth.

The $2.6bn (SR9.75bn) investment in Vale’s base metals unit underscores the kingdom’s commitment to expanding its footprint in the mining sector.

In January this year, First Quantum Minerals was reportedly in talks to divest a stake in its copper mines in Zambia to one of its shareholders, Jiangxi Copper.

In Zambia, First Quantum fully owns the Sentinel mine and holds an 80% stake in the Kansanshi mine, while the remaining 20% stake is held by the Zambian Government. 

These two Zambian mines are said to have generated $943m in revenue and $210m in operating profit in the third quarter of last year. It is estimated that these assets could be valued at nearly $6bn, based on their earnings.