Mining giant Rio Tinto is close to signing a $20bn deal for developing the Simandou mine iron ore deposit in Guinea, which is said to be the world's biggest untapped iron ore deposit in West Africa.
The final stages of the deal will see a partnership between Rio Tinto, Chinese aluminium firm Chalco, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Government of Guinea.
In addition to the mine development, the joint venture project will also include construction of a railway to transport iron ore from the Simandou mountain range, a deep-water port, building fibre optic and wireless communications, and laying and upgrading more than 1,000km of roads.
Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh said that the Simandou iron ore project could create Africa's biggest ever infrastructure venture. It will boost Guinea's annual revenue by $1.2bn through income tax and royalty payments, and pump billions into the nation's economy.
"Later this month, we expect to sign the investment framework that formalises our partnership with the Government of Guinea, Chalco and the World Bank," Walsh said.
The deal is expected to be completed by the end of May, following which Rio Tinto will begin construction with the aim of starting production by the end of 2020.
According to Walsh, the Simandou project holds about 2.25 billion tonnes of iron ore resources.
"When fully operational, the annual economic contribution of Simandou to the Guinean economy is estimated to be $7.6bn; that's 22 times the $340m in international aid contributions to Guinea in 2012," Walsh added.