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LUSAKA, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Hit by a slump in copper prices, Zambia should maintain stable mining policies and taxes to avoid losing out to new, lower cost mines elsewhere, Chamber of Mines President Nathan Chishimba said on Wednesday.
Zambia is Africa's second-biggest copper producer, but Chishimba said companies faced challenges including old mines, deep ore bodies, low grades, low productivity and regulatory instability.
Zambia is facing its toughest economic difficulties in a decade as weak commodity prices, electricity shortages and slowing growth in China have hit growth.
Chishimba said Zambia's copper was expensive to produce and investors were reluctant to start new mines and expand existing ones because of constantly changing policies and taxes.
"There are new, low-cost mines coming on stream in other countries that can thrive in this low price environment," he said.
"Unless Zambia takes action now to address our challenges, so that we can compete with these other countries, our future as a copper producing nation is in peril."
Mining companies operating in Zambia include Canada's First Quantum Minerals, Swiss commodities giant Glencore and London-listed Vedanta Resources.
Chishimba said the problems in the mining sector were a national crisis which raised long-term questions about Zambia's economic prospects.
"We all need to come together and agree the conditions which best promote the growth both of the mines and the broader economy. As an industry, we are ready to create dialogue on this vital strategic issue on which the future of our nation depends."
Zambia's economy relies heavily on mining for investment, jobs and foreign exchange earnings and there is a need to diversify, he said.
"We have to create a high-growth, diversified economy which spreads risk and opportunities across the economy, creates more jobs and widens the tax base," said Chishimba. (Reporting by Chris Mfula; writing by Peroshni Govender; editing by Estelle Shirbon)