In a groundbreaking $2.6 billion agreement announced recently, Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as a pivotal player in the global metal and mining investment landscape. The deal with Vale SA grants the kingdom a 10% stake in a major supplier of essential metals, including nickel and copper, critical for decarbonization efforts. Furthermore, sources indicate that Saudi Arabia is exploring additional investments, including discussions with Barrick Gold Corp. regarding a significant Pakistan copper mine project.
The mining industry’s attention is drawn to the ongoing struggle over control of commodities necessary to sustain and decarbonize economies worldwide. With China traditionally holding dominance as a buyer and funding source for securing supplies during its rapid industrialization, geopolitical tensions with the West have now prompted the mining sector to seek alternative partnerships.
Saudi Arabia’s strategic approach involves seeking minority stakes in global mining assets, ultimately securing access to strategic minerals. Simultaneously, the kingdom aims to develop a robust metals-processing industry, making it more attractive for international miners to explore Saudi Arabia’s mineral deposits—a crucial aspect of its economic diversification from oil.
While Saudi Arabia has invested substantially in various industrial and financial assets and entered the realm of professional golf and soccer, the recent deal with Vale marks its first major venture into mining. Through Manara Minerals, a new venture between the sovereign wealth fund and the state mining company, Saudi Arabia will gain interests in mines across Indonesia to Canada, contributing to the production of copper, nickel, and other industrial metals.
Western mining companies see Saudi Arabia as a source of deep capital pools, particularly appealing as Chinese funds face growing political sensitivities and institutional investors become more cautious due to environmental concerns. As a result, investors from the Middle East, including Qatar’s significant backing of Glencore Plc, are poised to become vital financiers for the capital-hungry mining sector.
Beyond financial support, Saudi Arabia offers political backing for companies looking to expand into the Muslim world amid depleting deposits in more traditional jurisdictions. For instance, Canada’s Barrick has been in talks with the Public Investment Fund (PIF) about a potential stake in the Reko Diq copper project in Pakistan, where Saudi Arabia’s influential political influence could ease funding burdens and expedite development.
While Saudi Arabia’s deep pockets present attractive investment opportunities, it may also pose challenges for big producers seeking their own deals. Western mining giants have been frequently outbid by Chinese firms in the past, and now they may face similar challenges as Saudi Arabia emerges as a competitive bidder.
However, unlike Chinese companies, Saudi Arabia’s current focus is on securing stakes in mining assets to ensure future supply of critical minerals rather than outright ownership and operation. Earlier this year, the kingdom established a new firm with $3.2 billion for global mining asset investments, demonstrating its long-term commitment to the industry.
As the US and Canadian governments tighten regulations on Chinese investment in key metals companies, Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia seize the opportunity to become major investors in the mining sector. The shifting landscape opens doors for alternative financing sources, and mining companies are now looking to Middle Eastern nations to play a prominent role in funding mines worldwide.