The laws of natural resource haven Saudi Arabia allow both local and international private investors to operate within the Kingdom’s growing mining sector, and, coupled by national emphasis on facilitating foreign investment, this has resulted in the genesis of consultancy businesses aimed at helping market newcomers to set-up, operate and prosper. This development—a highly desirable cost-effective one for all concerned—is keenly epitomised by Jeddah-based mining license and exploration experts Etqan Mining and Contracting Company Ltd. (“Etqan”).
To mine, or not to mine
Founded in 2003 through a license obtained from the Saudi Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Etqan has since become one of the most trusted and active hunters of metals and minerals in the Kingdom. It acts on behalf of multinationals—searching, scouting, digging, extracting and analysing stone, minerals and soil—before providing detailed reports that later form incremental pieces of feasibility studies and culminate in the make-or-break decision to mine, or not to mine.
“Our aim is to reduce the costs of our clients and limit the risks of them mining in infertile areas,” explains entrepreneur Hassan Mahmoud Al-Saigh.
He says that Etqan acts as a “one-stop shop” for the Kingdom’s mining sector entrants whom, despite some global assumptions, understand that given its geology, the region’s superabundance of commodities extends far beyond its historic reputation as a leading oil producer.
“God has bestowed a fortune of mineral treasures which are highly attractive for investors, both locally and internationally, to take into consideration,” he summates.
Al-Saigh is passionate about the Kingdom’s geology; an avid traveller, his office houses all manner of souvenir sample rocks, stones and soil which vary greatly in their origin, usage and value. Having covered so much ground himself, the prospect of the great unknown and the underexplored warrants great excitement as he points to the Empty Quarter—the country’s biggest desert—and declares, “I don’t call this area the Empty Quarter; to me it is by all means the Tempty Quarter”.
Studies have revealed this seemingly arid expanse of ground to contain significant quantities of the world’s purest silica-sand. At 99.9 per cent purity, this raw material poses valuable potential for glass making without filtering and processing costs that regularly encumber manufacturers.
As Al-Saigh describes this find and his interest and appreciation of the Kingdom’s geology—some overlooked by the less astute among explorers—he also epitomises Etqan’s edge on the majority when it comes to identifying and advancing resource value ripe for future project development.
The license to act
Having discussed Etqan’s experienced approach and sheer enthusiasm for exploration, Al-Saigh turns his attentions to the requirements of the company’s client base, and requests, he says, don’t get much more frequent than those for the obtainment of mining licenses.
As an issue which likely appears complex to an outsider looking hungrily in, it is an area that Etqan is adept in brokering—one that requires comprehensive understanding of the full ambit of both domestic and international legislation. Although the law allows private investors to compete for locations and set-up mining operations, both local and international entrepreneurs must adhere to a number of terms of conditions to do so successfully.
An investor must first obtain a license to mine in a particular area and confirm its own financial and technical ability to do so, as well as to specify the material it hopes to target.
Additionally, Al-Saigh says, non-Saudi investors must properly register as foreign investors with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) before they consider applying for a mining licence from the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.
These are merely two examples of the tribulations a company faces in getting its vital approvals, he says. In fact, Etqan is so inundated with inquiries that it has created its “Trakhis” division. Arabic for “licenses,” the Trakhis unit is entirely dedicated to handling these particular requests, and it is a particularly useful enterprise for foreign players.
“We have abundant amounts of mineral resources here, it’s a virgin territory which is both un-monopolised and open for foreign investors” Al-Saigh says.
That is, he notes, for multinational vehicles with the technical and monetary ability to see such capital-intensive industrial feats through to fruition.
“Metals like iron, copper and gold are plentiful. Investing in them requires big capital, which is why few private-owned Saudi companies focus on them,” he notes.
“However, the prospect is there and widely-open for large foreign companies to dig in.”
Every leading multinational explorer, developer and producer knows that, regardless of which global location one choses to venture to, mining operations are built on strong local level relationships capable of offering up the best geology, development setting and legal structure from the onset. Talk of the Kingdom’s burgeoning mining boom continues to excite all manner of would-be players; but cultivating the right in-country partners and knowledge base to pick up top projects under the right terms is less straightforward. Etqan serves both local and far-flung investors alike with a resolute focus on seeking out the geographical potential they are hoping to look for. Moreover, through the Trakhis unit, Etqan is enabling those with the necessary capital and operational skills to get the licenses they need to add the Kingdom’s finest assets to their portfolios.