Zimbabwe and China-based Tsingshan have agreed to start lithium mining and processing operations in the southern African country, reported Reuters citing Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

With a presence in the stainless steel and nickel industry, Tsingshan is currently constructing a $1bn stainless steel plant in Zimbabwe, which is claimed to hold some of the world’s largest hard-rock lithium reserves.

The firm also owns a coking coal operation and a ferrochrome smelter in the southern African country.

Mnangagwa and Tsingshan founder Xiang Guangda supervised the framework agreement signed for the firm’s planned expansion projects in Harare.

During the signing ceremony, Mnangagwa was quoted by the news agency as saying: “Tsingshan Holdings Group is set to expand its current operations. This will see the company embark on the production of cement and lithium concentrates, as well as scaling up coke and ferrochrome production among other mining and mineral processing projects in Zimbabwe.”

The agreement will also see Tsingshan increase the annual production of stainless steel and coke to five million tonnes for each commodity.

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The Chinese steel group is also expected to help upgrade Zimbabwe’s railway system, Mnangagwa said.

Recently, Chinese giants Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, Sinomine Resource Group and Chengxin Lithium acquired lithium assets in Zimbabwe in deals totalling $678m.

Last year, Tsingshan teamed up with Ehrman Group to develop a 24,000t lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) battery-grade lithium production project in the Centenario-Ratones Salt Lake in Argentina.

The project is planned to be commissioned in 2024.