Pakistan has called for renegotiation of a $3bn copper and gold project undertaken by Canada’s Barrick Gold and Chilean miner Antofagasta in Balochistan, in order to protect country’s “national interests”.

The provincial government of Balochistan has canceled the project. Islamabad says its key national interests are not being addressed.

Speaking to the Financial Times, finance minister Shaukat Tarin, said: “We can’t continue with this project in its present form. We have to protect our key national interests.”

Reko Diq is a small town in Chagai District of Balochistan, near the Iran-Afghan border.

According to estimates, some 12.3 million tons of copper and 20.9 million ounces of gold lie beneath the sands of Reko dig. The copper deposit is four times larger than in the adjoining Saindak area.

The copper-gold deposits at Reko Diq are believed to be even bigger than those of Sarcheshmeh in Iran and Escondida in Chile.

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According to a report in the Financial Times, the provincial government of Balochistan last month recommended the cancellation of the Reko Diq contract, a move that needs the federal government’s backing before it can be formalized.

The province of Baluchistan has a 25 per cent stake in the project, expected to cost $3bn to develop, with the rest owned by the two mining companies since 2006.

Tarin’s comments are likely to upset the few foreign investors still prepared to venture into the strife-ridden province of Balochistan, wrote Financial Times, adding, “but the government wants to avoid selling valuable assets at a throwaway price.”

The minister said raw copper extracted from the Reko Diq site in Balochistan would earn between $40bn and $50bn in the next 25-30 years.

He argued that Pakistan would earn 10 times the amount if the copper was processed and sold in a refined form. “Why should they [the investors] take our raw material for processing to a third country and then make huge profits?”

A senior official in the provincial government of Balochistan said that sales from the site could jump to $1,000bn in the next 25-30 years if earnings from gold and other precious minerals were included.

The Reko Diq site holds up to 11bn pounds of copper and 9m ounces of gold reserves, according to government estimates.

Balochistan, surrounded by borders with Iran and Afghanistan, and a southern coastline touching the Arabian sea, has been at the center of a continuing nationalist insurgency for almost four decades. Rich in mineral resources, Baluchistan is also the most sparsely populated and the poorest of Pakistan’s four provinces.

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