March 27, 2015 / 4:53 PM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 1-Barrick to keep operating Zambia copper mine, pending royalty change

(Adds details on government plans, background on Barrick’s planned suspension and Lumwana mine, Barrick stock)

TORONTO, March 27 (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp , the world’s biggest gold producer by output, will continue operating its Lumwana copper mine in Zambia while awaiting changes to the country’s mineral royalty tax, the company said on Friday.

Barrick had said it would suspend operations after Zambia hiked mineral royalties for open pit mines to 20 percent from 6 percent in January. Major staff cuts to Lumwana’s 4,000 workers were planned for March, Toronto-based Barrick had said.

“We are encouraged by the President’s recent statement and will carry on operating at Lumwana while we await details on the government’s proposed solution,” Barrick spokesman Andy Lloyd said in an email in response to a query from Reuters.

The new royalty plan, which has rattled unions and mining companies in Zambia, Africa’s second largest copper producer, also increased the royalty tax rate on underground mines to 8 percent from 6 percent.

Zambian President Edgar Lungu on Wednesday directed the finance and mining ministers to change royalties on mining firms by April 8, saying the government could consider temporarily reverting to the 2014 tax regime as a new rate is negotiated.

Other options include modifying the 2015 royalty rates, delayed introduction of those rates, or negotiating interim arrangements for the most affected companies.

Barrick booked a $3.8 billion impairment charge to write down Lumwana’s value in 2013 due to higher costs and a drop in profit after a pullback in metal prices.

Barrick acquired the mine, located in northwest Zambia, after its C$7.3 billion ($5.8 billion) purchase of copper miner Equinox in 2011.

Barrick shares were 15 Canadian cents higher at C$14.24 on the Toronto Stock Exchange at mid-session Friday. ($1 = 1.2564 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Susan Taylor; Editing by James Dalgleish and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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