Papua New Guinea PM Marape presses mining, energy giants to advance projects

APEC summit in Bangkok

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape on Monday urged mining investors to get on with developing their resources, pushing for more downstream processing in the country and more local employment.

Marape said his goal is to expand the nation's economy to 200 billion kina ($55 billion) by 2029, more than doubling its gross domestic product since he took office in 2019, with the help of five gas and mining projects.

Those include the undeveloped Papua LNG project, run by TotalEnergies, and the Wafi-Golpu copper-gold project run by Newcrest Mining.

"You must show some progress, I don't want warehousing of licenses," Marape told a conference in Sydney, in comments directed at foreign investors.

The Wafi-Golpu copper-gold project, jointly owned by Australia's Newcrest and South Africa's Harmony Gold Mining, is the biggest undeveloped mining resource in the Pacific nation. It has long been stuck on the drawing board, partly due to a battle over how big a share of the project's gold output would go to the PNG government.

"Our teams have made significant progress in recent weeks and months to find a balance. With continuing goodwill on both sides, we anticipate a positive outcome will be reached," Newcrest Chief Executive Sandeep Biswas told the conference.

The country is also locked in talks for a special mining lease to restart the Porgera gold mine, which has been shut for more than two and a half years, following an agreement reached last year with co-owners Barrick Gold Corp and China's Zijin Mining Group.

"We understand you are not a charity but please take my people with you," Marape said at the conference, referring to companies looking to develop resource projects.

Marape has been pressing for PNG to receive a bigger share of the benefits from mining and energy projects since he first became prime minister in 2019, and so far has succeeded in renegotiating deals with energy giants ExxonMobil Corp and TotalEnergies on their gas projects.

He highlighted the country's proximity to resource-hungry Asian nations as an advantage for its mining and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. The biggest single foreign investment in the country is the PNG LNG project, run by Exxon.

"Last year when I visited China I was able to sell 3 million metric tonnes of gas. Papua New Guinea is using its bilateral network and multilateral networks to trade and can find markets," Marape said.

The next major gas development awaiting a final investment decision is the Papua LNG project. TotalEnergies has said it aims to decide whether to go ahead with the project around the end of 2023.

($1 = 3.6166 kina)

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Diane Craft and Kenneth Maxwell)