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Tanzania weighs ‘super-profit’ tax on miners

Tanzania is eyeing a "super-profit tax" on miners to help pay for a development program in the East African country, the latest in a growing list of governments trying to grab more money from the resource sector amid rising commodity prices.

While the Tanzanian government hasn't confirmed that it is weighing such a plan, reports say the new tax could be similar to one proposed last year in Australia.

"Considering the increasing trend in mineral prices, it is optimal to introduce a super-profit tax on the windfall earnings from the mineral sector," state government documents viewed by Reuters.

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Bloomberg reported the comments come from the country's planning commission, which the Tanzanian government website describes as a think-tank under the President's office that advises on economic issues.

African Barrick Gold, the largest gold producer in the Tanzania with four operating mines, said it's not aware of any new tax proposal, and hasn't been involved in any discussions about one.

The London-based company, spun out by majority-owner Barrick Gold Corp. of Toronto last year, also said it has mineral development agreements at its Tanzanian mines that guarantee "tax and fiscal stabilization." They can't be amended without their consent, African Barrick said in a statement Wednesday.

Still, investors remain skeptical and drove down African Barrick shares by 8 per cent on the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday to their lowest level since the company went public in March, 2010. Barrick holds a 75-per-cent stake in African Barrick.

The possible tax increase is another blow for African Barrick, which is investigating recent shootings at its violence-plagued North Mara mine, as well as allegations of sexual assaults by about a dozen police and security guards.

"We find it hard to see how ABG is going to recover quickly from this constant pounding of bad news," analysts at Citigroup Global Markets Inc. wrote in a research note Wednesday.

Goldman Sachs isn't changing its estimates on African Barrick because the tax proposal isn't confirmed, but noted that an additional 10-per-cent tax hike would reduce the company's net asset value by about 15 to 20 per cent.

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Tanzania's current corporate tax rate is 30 per cent. The expectation is that a new super-profit tax would increase that level to 40 per cent. That is the level first proposed by the Australian government last year; it was eventually reduced to 30 per cent after a backlash from mining giants such as BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto PLC.

If Tanzania were to push ahead with a higher tax, it would join other countries in Africa, along with Australia and Chile, looking to the highly profitable mining sector as a source of revenue to finance government programs. The trend is expected to persist as prices for commodities such as copper, coal and gold continue to trade near record levels.

It is also spooking investors who see the rise in resource nationalism as a threat to share prices. Industry executives warn that if governments try to squeeze too much from miners, they'll risk losing foreign investment.

In Peru, leftist president-elect Ollanta Humala is trying to soothe fears that he plans to unilaterally raises taxes on, or even nationalize, mining assets.

Those worries led to a sharp selloff of Peruvian stocks this week, reflecting concerns that Mr. Humala might revert to his radical proposals of the past.

Mr. Humala told Reuters he would negotiate taxing windfall profits on miners instead of imposing a new overall levy. He said miners making money on surging prices for commodities should help to pay for social programs in Peru.

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About the Author

Brenda Bouw is a freelance writer and editor based in Vancouver. She has more than 20 years of experience as a business reporter, including at The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press, the Financial Post and was executive producer at BNN (formerly ROBTv). Brenda was also part of the Globe and Mail reporting team that won the 2010 National Newspaper Award for business journalism. More

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