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China signs Afghanistan's first oil extraction deal

media The project will be a joint venture with a company owned by relatives of … Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

China has signed Afghanistan’s first major oil exploration contract, a deal that could earn the wartorn country five billion euros over 25 years. China already has Afghanistan’s biggest foreign investment – a 2.6-billion-euro copper-mining contract.

Afghan mining minister Waheedullah Shahrani and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) president Lu Gong Xun signed the deal in Kabul on Wednesday.

It will develop three oil fields in the relatively peaceful north of the country, along the Amu Darya river on Afghanistan’s border with its central Asian neighbours.

Dossier: AfPak news and analysis

Afghanistan will take 70 per cent of the net profits and CNPC will pay 15 per cent corporation tax and hundreds of jobs are expected to be created.

The joint-venture is being launched with an Afghan company, the Watan Group, which is owned by the Popal brothers who are cousins of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

CNPC outbid four companies for the project.

Extraction is not expected to start until late next year. The deposits to be exploited are estimated to contain about 87 million barrels of oil.

The amount is relatively small globally but significantly profitable for Afghanistan,
Shahrani said.

Six oil deposits have been discovered in Afghanistan, which also has unexploited reserves of copper, iron and other minerals. One oil deposit, also in the north, is estimated to be worth 1.8 billion barrels, while there are others in Herat province in the west, Helmand in the south and Paktia in the south-east.

Lu Gong Xun, who said that CNPC will build a refinery, promised further investment if more reserves are exploited.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, is investing heavily in oil-rich countries, including in Africa where it builds roads, schools, football stadiums and transport hubs.

Afghanistan’s poor infrastructure, wrecked by decades of war, is both a problem and an opportunity for Chinese investors, although the widespread instability and corruption do not have any apparent mitigating factors.

Three years ago the China Metallurgical Construction Corporation signed a 2.6-billion-euro deal to develop the Aynak copper mine in the eastern Logar province.

China moves in economically as the US is set to move out militarily, posing a possible challenge to President Barack Obama's strategy of countering Beijing's influence in Asia.


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