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Jamaica News - Real Estate - Projects (February 14, 2005)
China, Jamaica studying: New alumina refinery
The Chinese are considering developing a one-million tonne alumina refinery in Jamaica, and feasibility and technical studies on whether Beijing should proceed are to begin shortly, Prime Minister P J Patterson announced last night.

Patterson, in a radio and television address, said that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Jamaica/China cooperation in the bauxite/alumina sector was among the agreements signed in Kingston last week during the official visit to the island by the Chinese vice-president Zeng Qinghong.

Zeng led a large delegation of investment and trade cooperation officials for an exhibition and Sino/Caribbean talks that focused primarily on the Chinese using Jamaica as a jump-off point for expanding its markets in the region.

While it was known that several bilateral pacts were signed between Kingston and Beijing, there was no specific or detailed announcement of the likely alumina agreement until Patterson's statement last night.

"Specifically, the relevant governmental agencies and China will conduct feasibility and other technical studies towards the development of a new alumina plant in Jamaica to supply the requirements of the China market," Patterson said. "Consultations will take place shortly to finalise the work for conducting the necessary studies."

China's booming economy is hungry for metals and Jamaica last year sent 830,000 tonnes of alumina to its aluminium smelters, a more than 1,200 per cent supply hike over four years. The value of those exports have gone from US$12 million in 2000 to US$200 million in 2004.

The proposed capacity of the plant, Patterson said, was a million tonnes a year "and this would involve significant investment for our industry and by far the largest by China in Jamaica and the Caribbean".

Patterson did not place a price tag on such an investment or say where such a plant would possibly be sited, but industry sources estimated that a greenfield facility of this type would require an investment of upwards of US$700 million.

It was not clear last night how the proposed Chinese alumina refinery would impact plans by Alcoa for a US$800-million investment to increase, from 1.25 million tonnes a year to 2.65 million tonnes, the Jamalco alumina refinery in Hayes, Clarendon that it owns with the government. That project is to start by mid-year.

Apart from the Jamalco refinery, there are the two Windalco facilities with a combined capacity of one million tonnes of alumina a year and the Norsk Hyrdo controlled Alpart plant with a capacity of 1.1 million tonnes.

Officials have said that Jamaica has about 50 years of alumina reserves remaining and there has been no revision of this estimate.

Other announcements made last night by PM Patterson:

. 150 new all-terrain vehicles for the police force to arrive next month, and 100 new motor cycles to be deployed in one week;

. new Coast Guard base to be established in Black River, St Elizabeth later this month;

. repair of police stations including one to open in May Pen next month; and

. a public education programme on the Caribbean Court of Justice; Patterson urged all Jamaicans to inform themselves about the court

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