Government looks to Syria venture for long-term supply of phosphates

Government looks to Syria venture for long-term supply of phosphates

New Delhi: The government is exploring a long-term contract with Syria to ensure supplies of quality rock phosphate and phosphoric acid used in the production of phosphatic ­fertilizers.

“India has offered to help Syria in the upgradation process and, in turn, (wants) a long-term supply of rock phosphate without turning to the international market," said a senior government official who did not wish to be identified.

This will be facilitated through a joint venture with the General Company for Phosphate and Mines.

To further sweeten the offer, India is also offering to strengthen the mining infrastructure and help upgrade the railways and ports in Syria.

This was conveyed by minister for chemicals and fertilizers Ram Vilas Paswan to the Syrian foreign minister Walid Mouallem on Tuesday. The visiting Syrian minister welcomed the suggestion and agreed to take up the issue with his government.

While Syria has huge unexploited reserves of rock phosphate, a basic raw material in the production of phosphatic fertilizers, India has been importing significant quantities at high prices. In 2006-07, India imported close to 2.6 million tonnes (mt) of rock phosphates at prices which fluctuated between $70 (Rs2,849) and $95 per tonne. “Currently, the price of good quality rock phosphates is between $120 and $123 per tonne," said the fertilizer ministry official.

Syria exploits only around 3.5mt annually of its estimated 1,700mt of rock phosphate reserves. However, the Syrian rock phosphate is of low grade.

“With the amount of phophorus pentoxide varying between 24% and 26%, the Syrian rock phosphate requires upgradation before it can be used as a raw material for the production of Single Super Phosphate (SSP)," said a senior official in the fertilizer ministry, who also did not wish to be identified.

Given the increasing import prices for most raw materials and growing overall requirement of fertilizers in India, the domestic fertilizer manufacturers are excited at the ­prospects.

“Many fertilizer manufacturers will be interested in forming the joint venture provided the long-term supply prices of phosphate is lower than the international import price," said a senior official of the Fertiliser Association of India.

Experts believe this could be a significant move for both public and private mining agencies.

“Rock phosphate resources generally occur as sedimentary phosphorites, for which Indian mining companies do have expertise. The beneficiation of low and moderate grade Syrian rock phosphate, however, may require innovative treatment like leaching. The development, at the least, opens an opportunity for Indian mining companies to make one more global stride," said Dipesh Dipu, a manager with consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Pvt. Ltd.