Minister of Natural Resources Jim Hok speaks about the significance of Suriname's minerals
Suriname is projected to be the top economic performer for the region in 2012, with a 4.5% growth. How do you see Suriname as an example to follow in the region?
The economic growth in the Caribbean during the recent decades has mostly come from the development of tourism and perhaps small industries (with the exception of Trinidad, which has oil and gas). For Suriname, the growth we have witnessed over the past 20 years has largely been from the mining sector (specifically, oil and gold). While it is true that tourism is also a growing sector in Suriname, the oil business is growing even faster.
During the 2008/09 crisis, these differences became even more pronounced. I believe that they cannot really be compared. In the Caribbean, the impact of the crisis was strongly felt because of the decline in tourist volume. Suriname, on the other hand, was not as affected because it had oil and gold to carry it through.
Suriname’s young oil industry is one of its most promising assets. How is the government working to maximize the potential of this industry?
The oil industry in Suriname is a fruitful one. We are currently expanding a refinery here, of which state oil company Staatsolie is the sole operator. The concession for the whole country is theirs and any group looking to explore opportunities in the country’s oil industry has to go through them.
Onshore, Staatsolie is quite busy with drilling and exploration work. They also have some nearshore ventures, which are often done with other companies. They have not quite gone into offshore and deep-sea projects.
The potential of the Suriname oil industry is quite clear. Together with Brazil’s Agencia Nacional do Petroleo, Gas Natural e Biocombustive is (ANP) and the U.S. oil regulatory body, we are already working towards establishing some regulations. It is necessary to do that because, as it has been found before in other countries, once you have found oil, the pace at which regulations are passed are crucial. It is about this stage that people and organizations rapidly change. Ordinarily, regulations are the last thing to change.
We have onshore, nearshore and offshore operations. The country was granted the permission to add another 150 miles to its economic zone at sea. This gives us a total of 350 miles before the coast. Oil companies look at the history of the continents, in terms of how they were together a long time ago, and how they were eventually divided. They found a lot of oil in Africa (in the places where the coast of Guyana connected to Africa). That is where the potential was initially found, and since then, has been proven to be the genuine article. For us, we still have a lot to explore.
How would you describe the natural resources industry?
The development of natural resources in Suriname is relatively new, except for some specific resources like bauxite, which has been going on for almost 100 years. In fact, before and during WWII, 80% of the airplanes that flew at the time were made from Surinamese aluminum.
In the mineral sector, we are in the process of putting together a geophysical map to develop a plant. Furthermore, we are exploring the opportunities of our renewable resources for energy production, such as solar energy and hydro energy.
Suriname has a robust mining sector; particularly, in the areas of gold and bauxite.
Right now, we have Suralco, which runs a bauxite plant in Lelydorp near Paramaribo, and two internationally recognized gold companies: IAMGOLD Corporation and NewMont Mining Corporation. They are all doing well in the industry. There’s also Moengo Minerals N.V., a new Surinamese company that is tapping into kaolin. At the moment, they’re the company with the most experience in kaolin exploration in Suriname.
What does the minerals industry need to further its growth?
We would like to welcome more junior companies to explore greenfield areas. They can look into untouched areas on the map, and start things from the ground up. The big players come in when it starts getting interesting. We need more attention from the greenfield operators.
Apart from oil, gold, and bauxite, which minerals hold the most potential?
Looking at the map of Suriname, manganese looks promising. A large manganese mine is now being built in Guyana, and there is no reason to suspect that the manganese would stop at the bordering river. There have also been interesting indications of copper and phosphate in the west. We have very interesting kaolin deposits in different parts of the country, including the east where we have the bauxite mines. There is also uranium.
President Bouterse says that Suriname is one of the greenest places on earth. What is being done for the sustainable development of natural resources?
When he called the country the greenest nation, it was an expression of Suriname’s commitment to environmentally friendly processes.
Some significant forestry policies have been put in place, including a push for a broader stakeholder involvement (starting from the grass-roots level), and the way the forest rehabilitates itself.
At the beginning of last year, we established a commission dedicated to creating legislations for the gold sector.
The commission regulates the small-scale miner, and informs them about the details of the Mining Act.
By the end of this year, the goal is to impose a 100% ban on mercury. As we speak, a training program is being implemented. Small schools are being put up to educate the garimpeiros and small-scale miners on methods of deriving gold without mercury to get even more results.
This is particularly important because of the high numbers of people who are working in the small-scale gold sector. We have around 35,000 small-scale gold miners who produce annually more gold than the two multinationals in the country combined.
In terms of mining, Florida, by itself, produces a quarter of the world’s phosphate needs. Do you think that there is a possibility for a partnership there?
As for strategic partnerships, the whole mineral sector is open for that. Phosphate is one of the minerals that need to be developed. There is also copper and manganese.
The first companies to come here to explore untapped minerals will probably become among the largest in Suriname over time. Look at IAMGOLD, for example. It was not the first company, but it was the first that came in with big money.
We need to bring new minerals to the surface. That is a promising endeavor for all companies in the mining sector.
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