(STAR) By Ted P. Torres - Slowly regaining back its luster, the mining industry may well be one of the booming sectors that would further drive the country’s economic growth next year, a top official of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said.

“Everything points to a boom year for the mining sector next year, and it will help sustain growth for the economy,” NEDA director for national planning policy Dennis Arroyo said.

Mining and quarrying, a sub-sector of the industry, grew 33.3 percent in terms of gross value-added during the second quarter of 2007, from a mere 3.3 percent growth in the same period last year.

Subsequently, the mining and quarrying sector grew 24.3 percent in the first six months of 2007 from 2.7 percent in the same period last year, one of the strongest sectoral growth during the period.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) earlier projected that the mining industry will realize total investments amounting to $348 million this year.

Last year, the mining industry’s gross production was valued at P68.4 billion. Total exports of mineral and mineral products amounted to $2.06 billion, while taxes, royalties and fees from mining reached P3.1 billion.

Since the mining industry was revitalized in January 2004, a total of $694 million in investments have been generated. These investments are expected to rise further up to 2010 as ongoing projects advance in stage.

“As the projects advance in their development, additional direct employment is created in the areas where the projects are located. This augurs well for the government’s employment and poverty reduction program,” Arroyo said.

If the priority projects materialize, the value of metallic and non-metallic minerals would grow to $1.385 billion this year, up from $1.282 billion in 2006, while mining’s share to total exports would rise to nine percent this year.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, the umbrella group of mining firms in the country, estimates that earnings will reach at least $10 billion by 2010, with 2007 investments alone exceeding $700 million.

The group said it also expects a mining boom in 2008 and 2009, with investments forecast at $1.55 billion in 2008 and $2.76 billion in 2009.

Mineral exports are likewise forecast to hit $2 billion by the end of this year. Dollar earnings from the sector could reach as high as $10 billion by 2012.

Several of the world’s top mining firms have already indicated interest in pursuing projects in the Philippines. BHP Billiton had expressed interest in infusing $1billion, while Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd. also signified interest in spending $1 billion for a nickel and cobalt smelter project in Mindanao.

Sumitomo is in the process of completing the expansion of its Coral Bay nickel mining and processing project in Palawan. The expansion project, worth $300 million, is expected to double the project’s capacity by 2009.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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