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CORRECTED-Ecuador says ready to ship first big copper export within weeks

(Corrects timing of copper shipment to ‘next month’, not Nov. 14, in first bullet and paragraph 3, and corrects to Lundin Gold, not Lundin Mining, in paragraph 7.)

* El Mirador to ship first copper concentrates next month

* Lundin copper mine also to open in November

MELBOURNE, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Ecuador plans to ship its first large copper cargo within weeks, a milestone in its ambitions to evolve from exploration hotspot to copper exporter.

The El Mirador copper mine, owned by a unit of the Chinese consortium CRCC-Tongguan, started operations in July but the the company imposed some restrictions in October as a precautionary measure to protect workers amid unrest over the government’s austerity plan.

The company has resumed normal operations and was readying its first shipment for nex month, Vice Minister of Mines Fernando Benalcazar told Reuters on the sidelines of the Imarc mining conference in Melbourne.

“Initially we planned to have it done by the end of this month. They have already stockpiled 30,000 tonnes. It will be the first time we have a larger scale exportation going out,” he said.

Ecuador, an Andean country neighbouring the world’s No. 2 copper producer Peru, has large mineral reserves but is only beginning to develop industrial-scale mining projects.

The highly conductive metal is in demand for use in electric vehicles and renewable energy technology, but big, new deposits are rare.

Canada’s Lundin Gold which is developing its Frute del Norte mine in the country’s south, will be the second of half a dozen big projects, when it gets underway in two weeks time, he said.

Ecuador has been reshaping its investment environment for miners, including remapping its mining concessions, and plans to have a bidding process ready by the third quarter of next year centred on six highly prospective regions.

The OPEC nation, which has struggled with low oil prices in recent years, has been drumming up foreign investment to tap its big copper, gold and silver deposits. It aims to more than double the value of mining to its cash-strapped economy by 2021.

Mining edged up to contribue 1.61% of GDP by the end of 2018, from 1.5% a year earlier and is “still tracking 4%” as more major new projects come on line, he said.

Among other projects are the Loma Larga gold project being developed by Canada’s INV Metals, which Benalcazar said has recently secured finance and Lumina Gold Corp’s Cangrejos gold mine.

Those actively exploring include Australia’s Fortescue Metals and privately held Hancock Prospecting, which is the only foreign miner not to have met with the government, he said.

Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Tom Daly in Beijing; Editing by Edwina Gibbs