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(Reuters) - A government minister in Canada's potash-rich province of Saskatchewan expects BHP Billiton (BLT.L) (BHP.AX) to proceed with construction of its potash mine, and an announcement may come within days, he said on Friday.
Bill Boyd, Saskatchewan's minister of the economy, said he does not expect BHP to delay the project as Brazil's Vale SA (VALE5.SA) did with its own Saskatchewan project on Thursday.
"We're hearing to the contrary, actually, that they are moving ahead, that this is a project that looks very positive for them," Boyd said on Canada's BNN TV. "I think at some point in the very near future they're going to be clarifying their investment decisions ... I understand it's probably days, not weeks away."
But a spokesman for BHP, the world's biggest miner, said the project has not yet gone to the company's board of directors.
"Work at Jansen continues. The shaft-sinking process is well underway and we are focused on the detailed engineering studies and mining lease conversions that we will need to complete before we take the project to the board," said BHP spokesman Ruban Yogarajah, in an e-mailed statement to Reuters.
BHP's mine at Jansen, Saskatchewan, would be the world's largest potash mine, producing 8 million tonnes of the crop nutrient annually at full production.
The project is one of three mega projects that analysts have suggested BHP is considering for delay as they await approval by BHP's board of directors.
The chief executive of BHP rival Vale SA, Murilo Ferreira, said on Thursday that the company is reconsidering its Kronau potash project in Saskatchewan, which requires an investment of $3 billion in its initial phase.
"The project will not be implemented now," Ferreira told journalists in Rio de Janeiro.
Germany's K+S AG (SDFGn.DE) broke ground in June on its own potash mine in Saskatchewan, where Potash Corp of Saskatchewan Inc (POT.TO) (POT.N), Agrium Inc (AGU.TO) (AGU.N) and Mosaic Co (MOS.N) also mine potash. Canada accounts for more than 40 percent of global potash reserves.
Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Jim Marshall and Marguerita Choy