Maputo — Mozambique's Minister of Mineral Resources, Esperanca Bias, has said there is no reason to delay the start of coal exports from Moatize, in the western province of Tete, which are scheduled to begin in the first half of 2011.
Last week, Roger Agnelli, the chairperson of the Brazilian mining giant Vale, one of the companies with coal concessions in Moatize, raised the possibility that disputes over transporting the coal might delay the start of exports.
Cited in the independent daily "O Pais", Agnelli said the problem concerned how much Vale should pay for the use of the Sena railway line, which would transport the coal from Moatize to the port of Beira.
The Sena railway, destroyed by the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels during the war of destabilisation, has been completely rebuilt and is under the management of the Indian company Rail India Technical Economic Services (RITES). But there is no consensus between the Indian company and Vale over the tariffs that Vale should pay.
Interviewed in Wednesday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias", Bias said that her ministry is working with the Transport Ministry to ensure that the movement of the Moatize coal begins on time
"There is liaison and very strong work between the two ministries to ensure that all the infrastructures will be available when requested to start the movement of coal production from Moatize", she declared.
She added that neither Vale nor RITES have approached the government about the tariff problem, or have warned the government that coal exports might not start on time. "What I can tell you, is that I have no knowledge of any postponement or delay in the start of moving the coal", she said.
Transport Minister Paulo Zucula has warned that if Vale and RITES cannot reach agreement, then the government will be forced to intervene. He pointed out that there is nothing unusual about buyers and sellers disagreeing over prices.
"At no time will we put the interests of the state at risk", he stressed, "and so we are following the negotiations, and if consensus cannot be achieved the government will intervene".
Early this year, the Tanzanian government revoked the contract under which RITES was to manage the Tanzania Railways company. That management contract was supposed to last for 25 years, but was cancelled after just three. RITES was accused of failing to invest in the Tanzanian rail network.
So far, only the Sena line is available to take the Vale coal to port, and Vale is expecting, in the initial phase, to move about five million tonnes of coal a year along the line. Later, a new line is projected that will link Moatize to the northern port of Nacala, via southern Malawi - but this ambitious project will probably not be available until 2015.
A second company, Riversdale Mining of Australia, which also hopes to start production in 2011, favours floating the coal on barges down the Zambezi, but this is dependent on economic and environmental viability studies.