Accurate resource assessment is key to effectively managing rare mineral resources, said the Minister of Energy and Mines, Phoxay Sayasone, at the 6th Ordinary Session of the 9th National Assembly Legislature on 8 November.
The Lao government currently issues two types of permits to companies interested in mining rare earth minerals—15 companies hold non-expedited permits for the exploration stage, while 13 have permits for pilot mining operations.
But only three out of the 13 companies with permits for pilot mining operations have obtained licenses to sell 19,500 tons, with 5,409 tons eligible for export to China, Phoxay revealed. Further, only four out of the 15 companies with non-expedited permits have completed initial resource assessments.
Based on preliminary information, establishing a single-element separation plant requires more than 100,000 tons of ore. The ministers suggested refraining from granting additional permits to focus on comprehensive studies to enhance management capabilities.
He also highlighted ongoing challenges in project management, including delayed implementation of loan agreements, environmental impact studies, staff training, and work plan development.
To tackle these issues, the Ministry of Energy and Mines has drafted a comprehensive plan, setting up six goals for its 5-year Energy and Mines Development Plan (2021-2025), with a focus on sustainable development and community participation. These goals include creating basic geological information, determining mineral policy, developing administrative mechanisms, promoting community participation, strengthening the Lao Mineral Development State Enterprise, and integrating sustainable development and green growth into the plan.
Phoxay also pointed out that the existing Minerals Law does not have clear provisions addressing the management of rare minerals, but the ministry is contemplating their incorporation into a new revised law, anticipated to be concluded in early 2024.