Sudan and Saudi Arabia are targeting a 2014 start for deep-water mining of a Red Sea basin believed rich in gold and copper, Sudan's mines minister said Tuesday as Khartoum seeks to replace lost oil revenues.
Manafa International Trade Company of Saudi Arabia and its joint venture partner Diamond Fields International Ltd of Canada received a licence in 2010 to explore the area about 115 kilometres (71 miles) west of Jeddah.
"It is already started and it's underway," the Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Ali al-Naimi, said on the sidelines of a regional mining conference.
"We are expecting starting production maybe 2014," added Sudan's Minister of Mining Kamal Abdel Latif.
He said reserves are "very huge" at 150 tonnes of gold and more than one million tonnes of copper. However, Diamond Fields has reported estimated copper reserves at less than half that amount.
Diamond Fields said last month that it is scheduled to meet in December with "third parties to discuss possible financing options" for the Red Sea project.
In Tuesday morning trade the company's shares traded at 3.5 cents on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Sudan and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement in 1974 to exploit the Red Sea's resources.
Sudan is trying to boost exports of gold and other non-petroleum products after the separation of South Sudan last year left Khartoum without three-quarters of its crude production.
As a result, inflation has soared above 40 percent and the currency has plunged in value after Sudan lost most of its international payments capacity and half its fiscal revenues.
Latif said traditional land-based mining in Sudan has this year produced 41 tonnes of gold worth $2.5 billion, with another 50 tonnes targeted next year.
Sudan should aim to refocus the economy on its non-resource sector, the International Monetary Fund says, estimating the country's gross domestic product for this year at about 191 billion Sudanese pounds.
That is around $31 billion at black market rates.